Fitness and Diabetes: Essential Exercise Tips

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Approximately 26 million adults and children have diabetes in the United States, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). And whether they're newly diagnosed or have known about their condition for years, they share a common challenge: How to exercise safely without having to stress about blood glucose level drops. In fact, cautions the ADA, it's important to "check your blood glucose about every 45 minutes after a hard workout and gauge whether your blood glucose is going down, going up, or leveling off." But don't let that stop you from improving your overall health with exercise, as discussed below.

Type 2 Diabetes and Exercise
The incidence of type 2 diabetes is increasing, reports the American Council on Exercise. However, by making lifestyle changes such as exercising, diabetes can be prevent, controlled and/or more easily managed. "Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to lifestyle factors, especially diet and exercise. People at highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes have a family history, as well as other cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. However, the same techniques that are used for prevention of this disease—a healthy diet and regular exercise—can be used to control and possibly reverse its progression," says ACE experts.

How Exercise Helps
Exercising regularly helps because it lowers insulin resistance. In addition to helping your body respond in a healthier way to glucose, fitness reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease because it promotes weight loss while reducing cholesterol and blood pressure levels. However, be sure to check your glucose before and after your workouts. Also important: Work out with a partner and wear an ID bracelet noting that you have diabetes.

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Talk with your doctor before beginning or changing your exercise program.

ACE Fitness Guidelines to Follow if You Have Type 2 Diabetes:

  • Always consult with your physician before starting any exercise program to determine the potential risks associated with exercise.
  • Cardiovascular exercise—Strive to accumulate a minimum of 1,000 kcal expended through physical activity each week. Pending current conditioning levels, this may require three to seven days per week of low-to-moderate intensity exercise for 20 to 60 minutes (walking and other non-weightbearing activities such as water aerobics and cycling are good choices). Daily exercise is highly recommended.
  • Resistance training—Perform resistance-training activities at least two days per week, targeting the major muscle groups. Complete a minimum of one set of 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise at a low-to-moderate intensity.
  • Flexibility—Perform stretching exercises at least two to three days per week, stretching major muscle groups to the point of tension (not pain) for 15 to 30 seconds. Complete two to four repetitions of each stretch.
  • The ultimate goal is to expend a minimum of 1,000 calories per week via physical activity for health benefits, or 2,000 calories per week for weight loss. Keep in mind that these are goals that you should work up to gradually over time.

Your Goal
Want a quick, easy way to understand how much exercise you should do? Go for 30 minutes total of exercise each day, and several brief workouts are fine, says George Griffing, MD, professor of endocrinology at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine in St. Louis, according to Health magazine.

"We need people with diabetes up and moving," Dr. Griffing adds. "If you can do your exercise in one 30 minute stretch, fine. But if not, break it up into increments you can manage that add up to at least 30 minutes each day."

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