If you are diabetic, the ‘should-I or should-I-not exercise’ question is something that may be playing on your mind a lot, and there’s good reason for you to wonder if exercising is actually good for you.
Here’s why exercising is good for diabetics
Regular exercising can do a lot for your physical as well as emotional health, and it’s also an excellent way to keep your diabetes in check. Also, exercising will help your body to become more sensitive to the insulin that it produces or that you inject. When you exercise, you start losing body fat, and this helps lower your insulin resistance(1). This is a good thing, as it is a natural way to help improve control over your blood glucose levels, without the need of added medication.(2)
But if your diabetes is making you excessively tired and keeping you from working out, then read our expert tips for fighting them.
1. Carry your id: Whether you are exercising at a gym, going for a jog or heading out for a light exercise, make sure to inform someone at home or work, and always carry some identification, such as your Aadhar card, PAN card, driving license along with your home and emergency contact numbers. Also, carry a note along with your id, that mentions you are a diabetic, and your doctor’s emergency number too. This will help you get immediate help even if you are unable to speak and cannot give the required information.
2. Carry a fast-acting glucose supplement: A small candy, glucose tablets or a sports drink containing sugar that can work quickly should always be your companion. This will prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping. Sip before, during and after the workout. (3)
Here’s a quick tip – 3 tbsp of castor sugar is one of the best solutions for hypoglycemia.
3. Take the exercise stress test: If you are above 40, speak to your doctor about taking an exercise stress test. It is a test that will tell your doctor how your heart responds to the exertion of exercise. This helps him determine the amount of stress your heart can take before developing either an abnormal rhythm or evidence of ischemia and check your overall fitness.
4. Get your carbs: Your body needs a carb boost before and after exercise so that it has enough energy. Try eating a carbohydrate-rich snack or meal at least an hour or two before you exercise and within two hours after you exercise to prevent energy loss. Some healthy carbs you can try are green moong, green peas, apples, pumpkin and even sweet potatoes.
5. Avoid extreme weather conditions: When you exercise in temperatures that are too hot or cold, it can cause a fluctuation in your blood sugar levels. This is because your body will have to use up more energy to maintain its regular temperature, as compared to the energy used up when you exercise in normal temperatures. Avoid exercising outside in such conditions and try indoor workouts instead.
6. Stay hydrated: This is very important for everyone, but more so if you are a diabetic. When you exercise, it is natural for your body to lose the fluids as you sweat. This means that you are at a high risk of dehydration, which can affect your blood sugar levels. Drink water before you start your exercise, during your training as well as after you finish exercising.
7. Avoid strenuous activities: If you have any form of eye disease, foot problems, high blood pressure levels, diabetic neuropathy or blood sugar levels higher than 250-300, it is best to avoid strenuous exercises. Take it slow and try doing lighter exercises such as walking, jogging, spot jogging, few laps of swimming, and so on. This will help to prevent your blood pressure levels from dropping too low.
8. Give your body time to adapt: When you start exercising, your body will need time to adjust to the changes. It is always best to start slow and gradually increase your exercise levels as your body adapts well. Make sure you talk to your doctor to know what will work best for you.
9. Be careful with strength activity: This is the type of exercise where you may lift, push or pull weights. In such exercises, you have to hold your breath often(2), and this can be dangerous when you have retinopathy(3,4). Consult with your regular doctor and also an eye doctor before you start such exercises.
10. Listen to your body: To stay fit, don’t forget to listen to the signs your body gives you. If you feel any pain or discomfort, stop immediately. Take a break, rest, drink some water and breathe easy.
Don’t forget to warm up and cool down
Never miss out on proper warm-up and cool-down. This helps your body get prepared for exercise, and then again to get back to its natural state once you are done.(3)
When you are living with diabetes, regular exercise is important. But it doing it in a way that doesn’t put you at risk is critical. So, keep these tips handy next time you hit the gym or try out a new workout routine.
(1) T E Keshel, R H Coker. Exercise Training and Insulin Resistance: A Current Review. Journal of Obesity & Weight Loss Therapy. 2015 Jul; 5(0 5): S5-003.
(2) S R Colberg, R J Sigal, B Fernhall, J G Regensteiner, et al. Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2010 Dec; 33(12): e147–e167. doi: 10.2337/dc10-9990. PMCID: PMC2992225
(3) EXERCISING SAFELY WITH DIABETES by Meg Thompson, available at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/vodold/vfal9804.htm
(4) E Atchison and A Barkmeier. The Role of Systemic Risk Factors in Diabetic Retinopathy. Current Ophthalmology Reports. 2016; 4(2): 84–89. Published online 2016 Mar 25. doi: 10.1007/s40135-016-0098-8