Did you know? More than 34.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, making it one of the most common medical conditions.
Even more Americans have what’s called “prediabetes,” meaning they have elevated blood sugar (or glucose), but it isn’t quite high enough to qualify as diabetes.
While the condition is common, though, the most prevalent type—Type 2 diabetes—is also incredibly preventable and sometimes reversible. Exercise plays a key role in making that a reality.
If you have diabetes, do you need to take special precautions when being physically active? Rauf Baba, MD, endocrinologist with West Tennessee Medical Group, offers some insight.
How Does Exercise Help With Diabetes?
While Type 1 diabetes is thought to have a genetic component and isn’t preventable, Type 2 diabetes is largely tied to lifestyle habits. Cases of Type 2 diabetes have been on the rise over the last few decades as Americans as a whole have become more sedentary and more often overweight or obese.
That’s because Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t use insulin effectively. This often happens when a person is carrying excess weight.
Exercising, then, is a great step toward preventing Type 2 diabetes in the first place—or in helping manage or even reverse it.
A 2016 study, in fact, found multiple benefits associated with exercise for those with diabetes, including improving blood glucose control, reducing heart health risk factors, contributing to weight loss and promoting overall well-being.
Experts recommend getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days, adding up to 150 minutes of exercise weekly or more. For those who are trying to lose weight or achieve fitness goals, more activity or more intense activity may be needed.
Include a blend of heart-pumping cardiovascular activities, like walking, swimming, or biking and strength training activities. Strength training, where you use weights or your own bodyweight to provide resistance against your body, helps build muscle mass, which can make your metabolism work more effectively.
How Can I Exercise Safely With Diabetes?
So we’ve established that exercising is a great idea if you have diabetes. But how does exercising affect your blood sugar, and are there any special precautions you need to take?
In general, being physically active is not only safe, but it’s also recommended! That said, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you’re staying healthy as you exercise:
- Check your blood sugar before exercising. This is important to ensure your blood sugar is in a healthy range before you begin an activity. Talk with your medical provider about what numbers are considered safe and healthy for you.
- Check your blood sugar after exercising. Because it increases your body’s insulin sensitivity, physical activity can lower your blood sugar for up to 24 hours. If you have Type 1 diabetes and take insulin, checking your blood sugar is especially important to ensure your blood sugar level doesn’t dip too low. Depending on your blood sugar reading, you may need to adjust your insulin dosage or carb intake to avoid hypoglycemia.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Staying properly hydrated is important at all times and for all people, but it’s particularly important for those who have diabetes. Because your body loses water through sweat, you need to drink water before, during and after exercising to properly replenish your fluid levels.
- Wear supportive socks and shoes. What does that have to do with diabetes? Well, when you have diabetes, you’re at a greater risk of non-healing wounds and something called “diabetic neuropathy” that often affects the feet. Wear cotton socks that wick sweat away from the feet and shoes that support your feet during activity.
- Check your feet for sores. This is related to the item mentioned just above. Always check your feet for sores, blisters, irritation or cuts. If you spot any, watch them carefully. If they don’t begin healing within a day or two, talk with your medical provider.
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, your primary care provider or an endocrinologist can help you manage the condition effectively. FIND A PROVIDER HERE.