If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, life is already a balancing act. From the ongoing challenge of ensuring your blood glucose is within the target range to planning your next meal, daily management of diabetes can feel like a full-time job — but without any paid vacation. The constant juggling can often mean less time for other things, such as daily exercise.
But while a healthy, active lifestyle is important for everyone, it’s especially vital if you live with diabetes. That’s because exercise naturally helps lower blood sugar levels, which is the key to managing the disease. If you or someone you know is living with diabetes, here are five tips to to help you get moving;
1. Find your fitness match
Fitness activity choices are endless. From cardio kickboxing to trampoline dodgeball, working out doesn’t need to be confined to running on a treadmill at the gym. Rounding up a group of friends to participate in a team sport is a good way to fit in exercise and socialize at the same time. In general, people with diabetes can participate in any physical activity, although remedying blood sugar issues under water can be difficult, making activities such as scuba diving riskier than land-based pursuits.
2. Work your workout into your schedule
Once you pick a fitness activity that suits your lifestyle, aim to work out for at least half an hour most days of the week. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s fact sheet, How can physical activity help people with type 2 diabetes?, 2.5 hours a week of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity will help you feel healthier while keeping blood sugar levels in check. For people with pre-diabetes or a family history of type 2 diabetes, making time to exercise is especially important.
3. Start slow
It’s important to keep your medical team in the loop before you embark on any exercise program. Taking it slow at first and gradually adding more time and intensity to your workouts is always the best approach, according to CanFitPro certified personal trainer, Matt McTavish. “While exercise is very important for people with diabetes, don’t do too much too soon,” he says. “The best way to start is by doing light cardio activity and seeing how your body responds. Then, you can take it one step at a time and modify your exercise routine.”
4. Keep a workout journal
If you have diabetes, you’re already used to keeping track of blood sugar levels. Similarly, a workout journal can help you identify fluctuations in your blood sugar levels so you can keep track of your progress and see how physical activity affects your diabetes control.
5. Stay in tune with your body
While exercising has many positive benefits, it can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate. One of the most serious risks of exercising when you have diabetes is hypoglycemia — when blood sugar dips and causes feelings of weakness, fatigue, shakiness and even confusion. To help prevent plummeting blood sugar levels, the best time to exercise is usually one to three hours after a meal, when your blood sugar is higher. If you use insulin, it’s a good practice to test your blood sugar before, during and after exercising and carry glucose tablets or juice with you to help treat any hypoglycemic reactions. Also, telling those around you about your condition and signs to watch out for is a good idea.
Many people with diabetes have gone to fitness extremes, completing marathons, triathlons and cycling across the country. You don’t have to be an extreme athlete to benefit, though. Not only is exercising a healthy way to keep your diabetes in check, it also helps you feel good and boosts your energy.