By Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD
Exercise improves diabetes management and delays the onset of type 2 diabetes. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or if you are at risk for diabetes, making exercise a part of your lifestyle will improve your diabetes and reduce complications.
Activity fights diabetes in a number of ways. Raising your heart rate — whether by walking, jogging, bicycling or swimming — helps your body use insulin more effectively. Exercise also improves blood circulation to all organs, especially the kidneys, brain, heart and eyes, which can be injured by poor diabetes management. Additionally, adults who exercise reap the benefits of stress reduction, decreased LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure and weight control. Exercising when you have diabetes also lowers blood sugar and improves protein and fat metabolism, slowing organ damage.
3-Step Beginner Walking Plan
(Check with your doctor first.)
- Wear comfortable clothes and supportive shoes.
- Set aside time each day for your new activity.
- Plan your route. An outdoor trail, a gym treadmill, a museum or a shopping mall — there are plenty of options to accommodate any weather condition.
- Recruit a friend or bring your favorite music.
- Go at a comfortable pace for you. Ask your doctor for your safe target heart rate.
- Set a goal based on time or distance.
- Time-based goal:
- Weeks 1-2: Walk 15 minutes a day on 3 days.
- Weeks 3-5: Increase walking time to 20 minutes a day on 4 days each week.
- Weeks 6-8: Increase walking time by 5 minutes a day with a goal of walking 30 or more minutes on at least 5 days a week.
- Distance-based goal:
- While wearing a pedometer, record your steps each day for a week.
- Add 500 steps each day on at least 3 days in the next week.
- Increase every few weeks to reach your goal of 8,000 to 10,000 steps daily on at least 5 days per week.
- Keep a record of your daily and weekly time or distance and blood sugar readings before and after exercising. Writing down your progress lets you see your accomplishments and increases your opportunity for success.
Smart Fueling for Activity
Your new exercise program may lower your blood sugars, and, in turn, your health care provider may adjust your diabetes medication. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you adjust your meal plan so you have the fuel your body needs. These guidelines will fuel you for peak performance.
A small whole-grain or carbohydrate snack with some protein provides enduring energy for your activity. You’ll need about 150 to 200 calories, as found in 1/2 cup oatmeal and 1/2 cup fat-free milk, or a slice of whole-grain bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter.
If you’re exercising for more than an hour, you may need additional carbohydrates (such as 8 ounces of a sport beverage, half a banana or a handful of raisins) during activity to prevent low blood sugar.
If you plan to exercise for more than an hour, refuel with a post-workout snack, like 6 ounces of fat-free yogurt and a small apple.
Before, during and after exercising, stay hydrated by drinking water. Drink 8 ounces of water before exercise, and continue drinking water so that you have clear urine within 2 hours of completing your activity. If urine is dark colored, keep drinking water until it is clear.
Whether starting your first exercise program or training for an endurance event — like a marathon or triathlon — increase your training slowly, check your blood sugars and fuel and hydrate before, during and after exercising. Your goal is to be in the blood glucose range that your health care provider recommends. As your fitness improves, you will reap greater health benefits.
Reviewed August 2013
Dr. Gerbstadt is a registered dietitian, a former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a board certified physician and author. She practices at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.