The role of exercise in treating and managing diabetes.

The role of exercise in treating and managing diabetes.

The role of exercise in treating and managing diabetes.

Regular exercise is essential for good health no matter who you are but as a diabetic it is even more important than ever. Exercise, in general, has many health benefits and for someone with diabetes, those benefits extend to helping you treat and manage your condition. 

Benefits of regular exercise

Leading an active lifestyle and exercising regularly has numerous benefits, both for your general health and your diabetes. Some of the more common benefits of regular exercise include:

  • Having more energy to get through the day;
  • Getting a more restful night’s sleep;
  • Reduced stress levels. Exercise is a great stress reliever, helping you to work thorough issues in your mind and, more often than not, helping you find a solution to a problem;
  • Improved concentration thanks to a clearer mind;
  • Enhanced self-esteem and body image;
  • Greater independence, especially for older adults;
  • Reduced risks of falls thanks to increased muscle strength, balance and flexibility;
  • Improved posture;
  • Increased fitness;
  • Weight loss and/or weight control;
  • Improved blood glucose levels (BGLs). Exercise helps to regulate your BGLs.

Barriers to exercise

For many people, it is easier to avoid exercise than to participate in it. There are many reasons and/or excuses people give not to exercise including I’m too busy; I’m too old; I’m not well enough; I can’t afford a gym/trainer; I don’t like sport; exercise is boring; it’s too hard; and an old favorite – I’m not fit enough. 

The truth is we can all find reasons and excuses to avoid doing something we don’t like. But one of the wonderful things about exercise is that it can be done by anyone, at anytime, anywhere you like. All of the excuses above can be solved with a little planning and creativity. 

Bringing the fun back to exercise

One of the best things about exercise is that it doesn’t have to remind you of high school – exercise can be fun! Think about the types of activities you like to do or something you enjoyed when you were younger. This favorite activity could be your secret to regular exercise. 

We all know we are more likely to do something and sick to it if we enjoy it and exercise is no different. Any activity that raises your heart rate (even if only by 50-60%) will have benefits. Thankfully, to experience these wonderful benefits, you only need to do 30 minutes of exercise a day, for at least four to five days a week. Even better, those 30 minutes can be broken into 10 minute or 15 minute sections. It goes without saying, of course, that as a diabetic it is preferable to so some type of exercise every day to help regulate your BGLs and this is particularly true if you have Type 2 Diabetes and manage it with diet and exercise. 

Becoming active again

It’s very easy, especially as adults, to allow life to take over and to avoid certain things in order to make time for activities we consider more important. Sadly, in today’s society, exercise is often overlooked for longer hours at work, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Adding regular exercise to your day doesn’t have to be difficult, boring, painful, or time consuming but it absolutely can be fun! 

The American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) has a great little saying for encouraging people to exercise:       

“If you don’t move, move a little. If you do move, move more”. 

Basically, if you don’t do any exercise, it’s time to start, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day and if you are currently exercising, see if you can squeeze in a little more. While 30 minutes of exercise is recommended for good health, for many people, diabetics included, it is safe to exercise for up to 60-90 minutes a day, six or seven times a week. 

If you want to become active again it’s best to start small. If it’s been a while since you have done any exercise aim for 10-20 minutes a day, four times a week to get started. Gradually build up until you are exercising everyday then increase the amount of time you exercise by five minutes a week (see example below). This method can also be adapted for people wanting to gradually increase how much exercise they are already doing. Best of all, you can choose any exercise you like from walking, gardening, and biking, to swimming, dancing or chasing the kids/grand-kids. 

Example of how to safely increase your activity levels:

Week 1: 10 minutes x 4 days

Week 2: 10 minutes x 5 days

Week 3: 10 minutes x 6 days

Week 4: 15 minutes x 6 days

Week 5: 20 minutes x 6 days

Week 6: 25 minutes x 6 days

Week 7: 30 minutes x 6 days

 Insulin and exercise

A word of caution: for those who use insulin to manage their BGLs, it is important to be aware of the effects of exercise on BGLs so you can avoid hypoglycemia.

Because exercise has a similar effect as insulin, it is very common for diabetics to experience exercise-induced hypoglycemia, not only during exercise but also up to four to six hours after exercise. Depending on the time you exercise, any meals consumed beforehand and the length of your exercise session, you have three options for avoiding exercise-induced hypoglycemia.

  1. Reduce the amount of insulin you take. If exercising after a meal, take less insulin with your meal. If eating after exercise, take less insulin at that meal instead.
  2. Increase your carbohydrate intake at the meal before or after exercise (depending on when you eat).
  3. Combine reducing your insulin with increasing your carbohydrate intake, especially if exercise will last longer than 45 minutes or your will be doing strenuous or high intensity exercise.

Also, it is a good idea to carry something sweet like jelly beans or a can of regular soda with you when you are exercising. Another tip is to eat 20-30grams of additional carbohydrate before exercise if your pre-exercise BGL is less than 100mg/dl (less than 82mg/dl is considered hypoglycemia). 

With exercise being such an important part of treating and managing your diabetes, it is important to include at least 20-30 minutes a day. With proper planning, the right food and good knowledge of your BGLs, you can safely enjoy all the benefits exercise has to offer.