Exercise and diabetes: What’s right for you?

How important is exercise for diabetes? Well, let’s start with the obvious – everyone benefits from physical activity, and it is part of any healthy lifestyle. If you’re living with diabetes, you have even more incentive to get moving: Exercise helps keep blood sugars in control. Your cells become more sensitive to insulin so they can work more efficiently and at the same time, they can help burn extra glucose in the blood, burn calories, and build your muscle.

Harvard Health cites some amazing findings from various studies about diabetes and exercise:

  • People across ethnic groups who exercised lowered their HbA1c values by 0.7% – no matter what medications they were taking and what diet plan they were following. Surprising but true: This impressive improvement happened despite the fact that no one lost weight.
  • Are you a fan of aerobic exercise? Is resistance your activity of choice? Good news: Studies found that both kinds of exercise, and even a combination of both, are equally effective at lowering HbA1c values for people living with diabetes.
  • Step it up! For people living with diabetes, walking two hours a week lowers the chance of dying of heart disease. Take it up to three to four hours a week, and your risk is even lower.

Let’s learn more about how to exercise to lower blood sugar.

How much exercise do you need?

Many of us have a difficult time incorporating exercise into our daily routine, but it is SO important. The CDC recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, which means you should feel your heart rate increase and be close to breathless. Of course, you can work out more often if you’d like – your blood sugar will thank you for it.

Type 1 diabetes and exercise

Want better cardiovascular fitness, more muscle strength, and improved insulin sensitivity? Yes, even if you’re living with type 1 diabetes, exercise is for you!

You do need to plan in advance. Even household activities like cleaning or gardening need to be considered for your insulin doses. It’s important to make sure your blood sugar stays in range when you are physically active, so learn what causes your blood sugar to spike and drop. Keep track of your numbers before a workout, the type of exercise you’re doing, the duration, and the intensity. What you eat, of course, always plays a role.

Worried about hypos? Make sure you always have a high carb snack or drink handy, just in case. If your blood glucose levels are high before working out, check for ketones. If you test positive, wait! Don’t exercise.

Wondering about children, type 1 diabetes and exercise? The ADA has guidelines here.

Type 2 diabetes and exercise

Exercise and type 2 diabetes are not contradictory! In fact, you should incorporate physical activity on a regular basis.

Why exercise if you are living with type 2 diabetes? It can help your blood glucose control, reduce your risk of cardiovascular issues, and contribute to weight loss, among other reasons. Physical activity may even prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes! Want more reasons to get active? Exercise can also help restore nerve function and boost joint health.

There are many exercise plans suitable for type 2 diabetes. Check with your doctor about which plan is best for you. You can also talk to a Dario coach for guidelines and ideas.

Exercise and diabetes: Safety tips

When it comes to diabetes and exercise, you do need to think ahead. We’ve put together some things you can do to make sure you are in good shape for working out:

  • Feet first. Wear socks made of cotton or moisture-wicking fibers. Stay away from thick seams and tight bands. Make sure your shoes are the right size and that your toes have room to move. When you’re finished working out, do a quick check for any swelling, blisters, redness, cuts, or peeling skin.
  • Don’t stop sipping. Water, water, and more water! Stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout.
  • Check the weather. Blistering heat? Painfully cold? Take a raincheck or move indoors.
  • Keep in touch. Take your cellphone with you, or even better – bring a friend. It’s important that you’re able to get help if your blood sugar drops.
  • Always have ID. Make sure you always have medical identification like a bracelet on you.

Ideas for exercise for diabetes at home

No need for gym memberships or fancy equipment – there are tons of things you can do at home! Look online for routines or apps that appeal to you. Remember – any movement counts, even routine activities like washing the floors and cleaning the yard. Of course, before beginning any new exercise program, check in with your doctor.

See if any of the activities inspire you to get your sneakers on:

  • Walking briskly
  • Doing housework
  • Working in the garden
  • Weight training
  • Dancing
  • Bicycling
  • Jogging/running
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi

Strategies for success

If you find something that excites you, you’ll be more inclined to stick with it long term. The key is choosing an activity that really works for your lifestyle and making it part of your routine. Here are some ideas for making it easier to get moving:

Set realistic goals

It’s tempting to be ambitious at the outset. Resist! If you aim too high too soon, it’s easy to get discouraged when your good intentions fail. Start slow. If it goes well, add time, intensity, and challenges gradually.

Make it social

There are a lot of good reasons to enlist a friend or family member to work out with you. First of all – accountability. It’s harder to cancel your exercise plans if you know someone is waiting for you. Pressed for time? Schedule a workout session with a friend and you are killing two birds with one stone. Want to save calories? Meet at a local park for a walk or in front of an online workout video instead of at a café and you’re already ahead!

TV time

Watch TV guilt-free while doing squats or lifting weights. You can also use commercials as your guide – do something active every time one comes on. If you have a treadmill at home, even better!

Prepare in advance

Get into the workout mindset. Put your clothes and sneakers out the night before in a spot that’s hard to ignore. Schedule your workouts on your calendar.

Motivating music

Put on your favorite playlist. Let the music help you move.

Beat boredom

Try different things on different days. Check out a new video, go aerobic for a change, or try a new class. Mix it up if you feel you’re in a rut.

Get set up

If you have the space and resources, dedicate a spot in your home to exercise. Get some bands, barbells, or whatever equipment you like to have around.

Walk it off

If all else fails – walk! Walking is the ideal exercise for lowering your blood sugar. It’s free and you can do it anytime, anywhere. Walking has lots of potential health benefits, including prevention or management of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and more. Here’s another reason to hit the pavement: Studies show that a brisk walk of at least 2,000 steps can temporarily reduce cravings for high-calorie, sugary snacks.

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about exercise and diabetes, check out these articles from Dario about managing exercise and getting active.

Medical Disclaimer
The articles provided on this website are for informational purposes only. In addition, it is written for a generic audience and not a specific case; therefore, this information should not be used for diagnostic or medical treatment. This site does not attempt to replace the patient-physician relationship and fully recommends the reader to seek out the best care from his/her physician and/or diabetes educator.






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