Exercise can do amazing things for blood sugar control and diabetes management.
A little daily exercise can go a long way, especially for those with type 2 diabetes. “When I talk to patients with type 2 diabetes about exercise, I put it this way,” says endocrinologist Minisha Sood, MD. “If you could do something that could lower your A1C, improve your stress level, improve your sleep, improve your health, and had no side effects, you do it?” The answer, she says, is usually yes.
Exercise can actually bring blood glucose levels down, according to the American Diabetes Association. When you work out, your muscles need to use the available insulin to take in glucose for energy, thus lowering the levels in the bloodstream.
Not only does this lower blood glucose levels temporarily, but sticking with a regular workout groove can lower your A1C over time. (Learn more about the A1C test for managing diabetes here.)
Adding exercise to your daily routine helps protect your heart, too, which is critical because diabetes increases your heart disease risk significantly. (Here’s more about the link between heart disease and diabetes.) For example, regular exercise helps lower blood pressure, which makes it easier for the heart to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
“If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and you’re beginning an exercise program,” says exercise physiologist Joan Pagano, “you want to be sure that your doctors know what you’re planning to do and can advise you on how to monitor.”
There are a few concerns to keep in mind while exercising with diabetes.
Hypoglycemia: Certain medications for diabetes can lower blood sugar. Combined with exercise, this might make blood sugar too low. Check blood sugar before, during, and after exercise to avoid hypoglycemia.
Neuropathy: Because diabetes can affect your nerves, causing numbness especially in the legs and feet, it’s important to wear well-fitting shoes and check your feet regularly for any cuts and bruises.
Intermittent claudication: These aches and cramps in the legs during exercise can be a symptom of peripheral arterial disease, which occurs when there’s blockage in blood flow in the legs. PAD is more common among people with diabetes.
For a well-rounded exercise program, include a mixture of cardio, strength training, and stretching. “Exercise doesn't have to mean gym, treadmill and elliptical,” says certified diabetes educator Sandra Arévalo, RDN. “It could mean just keeping active.”
Hate the treadmill? Here are 10 activities that burn calories that don’t feel like exercise.
Dr. Sood is a board-certified endocrinologist in private practice in New York City and an assistant professor at Hofstra School of Medicine.Sandra Arevalo
Sandra Arevalo is a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and director of nutrition services and community outreach at South Bronx Health Center.Joan Pagano
Joan Pagano is an exercise physiologist in New York City.
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When I talk to patients with
type 2 diabetes about exercise,
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I put it this way.
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I tell them if you could do
something that could lower your A1C,
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improve your stress level, improve
your sleep, improve your health, and
00:00:14,529 --> 00:00:16,450
had no side effects, would you do it?
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And the answer is usually yes.
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Exercise benefits people with type 2
diabetes in lots of different ways.
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It helps by putting glucose
into the muscle cells, and
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when there is less glucose in your blood
stream, because it's in your muscle cells,
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that also lowers your insulin levels.
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helps you to reduce the risk
of cardiovascular disease.
00:00:38,570 --> 00:00:40,100
If you have high blood pressure,
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it helps to lower your blood pressure.
When I found out I had type 2 diabetes,
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I knew I had to make changes in
my lifestyle, in the way I ate.
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I had to start exercising.
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And, that's important because it
helps control blood sugar levels.
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When I go out for a walk, and I come
home and I take my blood sugar readings,
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I see that my numbers are much better,
and it's great reinforcement
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to see that that makes a big difference.
If you've been diagnosed with diabetes
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and you're beginning an exercise program,
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you wanna be sure that your doctor
knows what you're planning to do and
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can advise you on how to monitor.
People with diabetes have to take
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a variety of precautions before,
during and after exercise.
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Someone's taking medicines that drop their
blood sugar like insulin, for example, or
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sulfonylureas, it's a good idea to have
them check their blood sugar before
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exercise to make sure it's not too high or
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Maybe during exercise if they're
having symptoms of low blood sugar and
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sometimes even afterwards.
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People with neuropathy or diabetic nerve
pain which usually occurs in the feet and
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toes, should be very careful
to wear well fitting shoes and
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to check their feet regularly for
cuts and bruises and
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Another concern for
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people with diabetes is intermittent
claudication, which is a mouthful to say.
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What it refers to is the fact
when you're doing an exercise for
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the lower body, like your walking or
you're on the treadmill, and
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you feel aching or cramping in your legs.
That is a hallmark sign of peripheral
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arterial disease, which is very serious
and needs to be addressed early on.
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Peripheral arterial disease occurs when
there's blockage in the blood flow to
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And that's usually from diabetes.
There are three types of
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exercise in a well-rounded workout
program, and those are cardio,
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strength training and stretching.
Aerobic exercise will
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definitely help blood sugar control, but
resistance training along with aerobic
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exercise does even better.
Exercise doesn't have to mean gym,
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It could be just keeping active.
If it's as little as taking 30 minutes
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out of your day to do two 15 minute
walks or three ten minute walks and
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do a few squats or push-ups at your
kitchen counter, why wouldn't you do that?
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Blood glucose and exercise. Arlington, VA: American Diabetes Association, 2020. (Accessed on December 31, 2020 at http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/get-started-safely/blood-glucose-control-and-exercise.html.)Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Yardley JE, Riddell MC, Dunstan DW, Dempsey PC, et al. Physical activity/exercise and diabetes: a position statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2016 Nov;39(11):2065-79. Effects of exercise in adults with diabetes mellitus. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2020. (Accessed on December 31, 2020 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/effects-of-exercise-in-adults-with-diabetes-mellitus.)