Exercise & Diabetes 101
Read on as pharmacist and Co-Founder Dr. Redmond answers some commonly asked questions about exercising with diabetes.
How does exercise help lower blood sugars?
Exercise naturally sensitizes insulin and makes the body’s natural insulin work better. It helps “burns off” the extra sugar in the body for energy - leaving less sugar around to cause high blood sugars, damage to vessels and organs, and less sugar around to be stored as fat. Exercise also helps with weight loss which directly reduces diabetes risk and improves blood sugars by reducing insulin resistance.
How much exercise should I do?
General exercise recommendations for people managing type 2 diabetes are similar to people who do not have diabetes. CDC recommends 30 min a day - 5 days/week. Start by doing more than you currently are. Not exercising at all? Start with 10 minutes a day and slowly work up over the coming weeks. ANY amount of exercise is better than none at all.
What if I have other health conditions that limit my ability to exericse?
If you also have neuropathy or cardiac disease, we recommend working with an exercise physiologist to get an individualized exercise plan. However, this may not be covered by insurance or it may be difficult to find access to an exercise physiologist near you. Safety is #1 and when exercise ability is seriously limited, diet needs to be a major focus.
Riding a stationary bike can be a safer and stable option for someone with neuropathy. There are even chair/sitting routines (while lifting light arm weights) that can get your heart rate going! With a cardiac disease history, we are careful with intervals and high intensity workouts out of the gate. Get the okay from your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine. They can also give guidance about any adjustments to medications or insulin that may be needed.
Generally, a combination of both cardio and resistance training is best for diabetes AND for weight loss. However, some people might notice when they "lift weights" or do strength training, they might actually temporarily see a rise in blood sugar readings (from an adrenaline surge). This is temporary and over time actually will reduce blood sugars when done on a regular basis.
Dr. Redmond's Top Tips:
My #1 tip? Exercise when it matters the most! Starting small makes a huge difference. My best recommendation is to walk for even just 10 minutes after 2 meals per day - this helps reduce blood sugars spikes when they are the highest and reduces the need for medications. This also doesn’t take up much time.
Almost everyone has a smart phone or computer now - look up something fun and entertaining on YouTube. There are a million different routines from lifting light arm weights, dancing, to kickboxing routines. You can certainly find something you like!
Find motivation and reflect on why you are doing this.....to avoid medications to avoid complications, to feel better, to be around for your grandkids and be active enough to enjoy life with them! Write down what inspires you personally and put it in front of you on that treadmill or on the fridge for when you feel like giving up or don’t feel like getting started. It gets easier and easier with time and consistency… the first few days are the hardest!
How to prepare for exercise when you have diabetes
1) Check your sugars.
Don’t exercise if your blood sugar levels are too low. "Too low" may be different for everyone, but ultimately if blood sugars are < 70 mg/dL it is best to eat a snack (about 15 grams of carbohydrates) and wait until it is safe to work out. Consider having a fast-acting carbohydrate like a sports drink or glucose tablets near by in case your sugar drops too low and keep a protein bar with you. This is especially important if you are on insulin in which some people prefer to keep sugars 90-120 or above before starting a work-out.
2) Drink Plenty of water.
Certain diabetes medications and diabetes in general can make you more prone to dehydration. Stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout. Drink when you feel thirsty.
3) Check your feet.
People with diabetes are at increased risk of ulcers, blisters, and nerve damage. Wear a clean pair of socks and proper supportive shoes that fit well. Check for any blisters, redness, or irritation before and after and let your doctor know of any new or worsening foot problems.
4) Stay Safe.
Have a workout partner or a Medical ID so if you experience signs of hypoglycemia (low sugars) others will know how to help you in an emergency. This is especially important if you take insulin or medications (like Glipizide) that can cause low blood sugars. A slight shortness of breath is normal during exercise, but you should be able to keep a light conversation. If you feel dizzy, disoriented, or unable to catch your breath - then alert someone and stop exercising.
5) Have Fun!
You are taking the steps to lead a better life, and you should feel good about it! When I feel like giving up, I remind myself that I am lucky that I am healthy enough to exercise. Smiling helps! Give it a try 😊.