Amy Tenderich, founder and editor-in-chief of Diabetes Mine, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in May of 2003. You will frequently find her speaking at diabetes events across the country.
Have you ever wondered why there’s so much fuss about physical fitness with diabetes? Why don’t people with other ailments get pestered about exercise?
Well, they might. But if you have type 2 diabetes in particular, here’s what you need to know: Exercise – defined as any kind of regular physical activity – is the one thing that has the single biggest positive effect on your overall health.
1. View exercise as medicine
Physical activity lowers blood glucose (BG) levels by improving your body’s ability to use both glucose and insulin. Experts agree that aside from insulin, the most effective tool for glucose control is activity―any type of activity that moves your body through space. The 8 major health benefits of exercise are:
- Reduce insulin resistance
- Improve glucose control, thus helping to lower your A1c
- Reduce blood pressure
- Lower LDL numbers (“bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides
- Raise low HDL numbers (i.e. increases your “good” cholesterol)
- Reduce heart disease risk
- Improve mood
- Help with weight control
2. Know when to worry about low blood sugar
If you’re physically active and you have diabetes, do you need to be cautious about blood sugar lows? Yes. But this is no reason to avoid exercise. There’s plenty you can do to stay safe while exercising.
If you’re not taking diabetes medications, it is unlikely that you’ll experience hypoglycemia because of exercise. If you are taking medications, discuss with your healthcare provider what affect this will have on your blood sugar during rigorous activity.
Hypoglycemia is any test result under 80 mg/dL or under 90 mg/dL with symptoms. If your medication puts you at risk for hypoglycemia with exercise, don't start your activity when your blood glucose is less than 120 mg/dL.
Low blood glucose is easily treated by drinking a sugary beverage or eating some fast-acting carbohydrate (high-sugar food) such as raisins or a small candy. But having a low is not a pleasant feeling. Common symptoms that will alert you to a low include:
- Feeling sweaty and/or shaky
- Rapid heart beat
- Mood changes
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling hungry and/or fatigued
3. Adjust insulin doses with your physical activity
When your activity increases, you usually need to reduce your mealtime (bolus) insulin dose. When you are less active than usual, your bolus dose might need to be increased. Unfortunately, there aren’t any good tech tools yet for pre-programming these bolus adjustments.
Getting the adjustment just right for any particular physical activity takes some trial and error. It’s always important to carry fast-acting carbohydrates and other snacks and supplies when exercising.
4. Find ways to overcome exercise barriers
If you're having trouble getting up and getting out there, try some of these ways to overcome your excuses.
Make the time
Turn your everyday activities into an exercise program, like walking laps around the park while you wait for your kids’ soccer practice to end, combining exercise with another daily event, or make exercise a ritual at the beginning or end of your day.
Find a buddy
Make a pact with a friend to workout together or to report to each other so you have someone holding you accountable for your workouts.
Make it fun
You won’t stick with an activity that you dislike. To make exercise more appealing, participate in an activity you love like yoga, Zumba, hiking, or biking.