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Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that leads to a rise in blood sugar levels. Chronically elevated blood sugar can be very harmful to the body and needs to be controlled with lifestyle changes such as the right diet, medication, and most importantly exercise. (1)
Making sure you are physically active is a great way to reduce your blood sugar levels and also improve your general health. Regular exercise can help you achieve these easily. (2)
Benefits of Daily Exercise for Diabetic People
Here are some common benefits of exercising regularly:
- Diabetes makes your body resistant to insulin or reduces the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas. As a result, your blood sugar levels start rising. Exercise can make your muscles use up this blood sugar – even without insulin. Hence, your blood sugar levels can be controlled with regular exercise.
- Exercise may also help your body cells become more sensitive to insulin, thus lowering blood sugar levels. (1)(3)
- Exercise can lower your risk of developing nerve damage due to diabetes. It also helps decrease your risk for heart disease. Several studies have shown that people with diabetes who are physically active are less like to develop heart disease. (4)
- Being physically active can help you lose weight and lower your cholesterol levels. (3)
Guidelines on Exercise
Here are a few things you should keep in mind before exercising:
- Talk to your doctor. It is important to get a proper diagnosis of your overall health before beginning to exercise daily. Your doctor will assess your blood sugar levels, heart health, any other issues, etc., before advising you on the amount of physical activity you should be doing.
- Set realistic goals for yourself. Start by exercising for 15–20 minutes a day before going for high-intensity or longer exercises.
- Drink plenty of water. It is important to remain hydrated while exercising.
- Make sure your blood sugar levels do not fall too low. Eat proper amounts of food and consult a dietitian, who can make an adequate diet and exercise plan for you. (5)(6)
Tips when exercising
Here are a few tips you can follow while exercising:
- Try to achieve 150 minutes of exercise in a week. This is a healthy exercise ratio for most individuals.
- Divide your time in a way that suits you. For example, you can work out for 15 minutes at a time, 10 times a week, or 21 minutes a day for a week.
- Walking is a great low-intensity workout for adults.
- Try to exercise with a friend to remain motivated.
- Always carry snacks and juices with you while exercising in case your blood sugar falls low. (7)
- Make sure to wear comfortable shoes to avoid foot injuries. Also, check your feet daily. Consult a doctor immediately if you notice any bruises, blisters, or cuts on your feet. (8)
Recommended Exercises for Diabetic People
Here are the three main types of exercises recommended for people with diabetes.
1. Aerobic exercises
Aerobic exercises or cardio is a good way to remain healthy. These include dancing, walking, jogging, running, and playing badminton or tennis, among others.
Aim to get at least 20–30 minutes of aerobic exercise in a day.
2. Strength training
Strength training helps you develop stronger muscles. It helps build lean muscle in place of fat.
You can start strength or resistance training after getting accustomed to aerobic exercise. It helps your muscles use up glucose effectively and reduce blood sugar.
Lifting weights is a classic example of resistance training. (7) Try to aim for 20 minutes of strength training twice a week initially.
3. Flexibility training
Flexibility training helps you use your muscles and joints effectively. It also helps decrease soreness and pain in the muscles and joints. (6)
What to Do if Your Blood Sugar Level Gets Low During/After Exercise
If your blood sugar falls lower than 100 mg/dL, consume 15–20 gm of carbohydrates immediately. This can be half a cup of juice, a slice of bread, a tablespoon of sugar or honey, a cup of soup, or 4 glucose tablets.
After 15 minutes, check your blood sugar. If it is still below 100 mg/dL, have another 15 gm of carbohydrates. Repeat every 15 minutes until your blood sugar increases to at least 100 mg/dL. It is best to discontinue the workout for the day if you feel your blood sugar is low.
Exercise and physical activity are essential to remain healthy. People with diabetes can greatly benefit a lot from regular exercise and eating a balanced diet.