What You Need to Know About Exercise and Diabetes

Exercise is a great way to maintain a healthy body weight, and it can also serve as a safe way to manage diabetes symptoms.

Exercise is an important fitness tool that can help lower blood sugar levels, improve the body's use of insulin, burn excess body fat, improve muscle strength, lower blood pressure, protect against heart and blood vessel disease by lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol, improve blood circulation, reduce risk of heart disease, and even reduce stress. Experts suggest 150 minutes a week of moderately intense physical activities such as brisk walking, swimming laps or bicycling.

Monitor Your Blood Sugar Levels

One of the most important things to do before you exercise is check your blood sugar. If you're going to exercise for more than an hour, check your blood sugar at regular intervals during your workout. You should also check it after you finish exercising as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can occur up to five hours after exercising.

Blood Sugar Guidelines for Exercising Safely

  • If your blood sugar levels are lower than 100 mg/dL, your levels may be too low to exercise safely. If this is the case, you should eat a small snack that contains carbohydrates, like fruit or crackers, before you begin to work out.
  • When your blood sugar levels are between 100 and 250 mg/dL you are good to go, as this is considered to be a safe pre-exercise blood sugar range.
  • If your blood sugar levels are 250 mg/dL or higher, you should take some precautions before working out. One thing you should check for are ketones in your urine, which are substances made when your body breaks down fat for energy. If there is an excess of ketones, it could mean that your body does not have enough insulin to control blood sugar. Working out when you have high levels of ketones could put you at risk of ketoacidosis, a serious complication of diabetes that requires immediate medical attention. When this happens, wait to exercise until your test kit shows a low level of ketones in your urine.
  • When levels are 300 mg/dL or higher, your blood sugar may be too high to exercise at all and it is recommended to postpone your workout until your blood sugar drops to a safer pre-exercise range.

Other Precautions

Although keeping your blood sugar level in check during your workout is essential, there are other things you should remember when you workout at the gym or outdoors:

  • Wear medical identification or other ID on your person at all times.
  • Bring food or glucose tablets so that you can be ready to treat hypoglycemia.
  • Wear socks and shoes that are comfortable and fit your feet well in order to prevent foot irritation. After you exercise, you should also remember to check your feet for blisters, sores and cuts as these can worsen and develop infections if left untreated.
  • Drink plenty of water during your exercise routine. Staying hydrated is essential because if your body becomes dehydrated your blood sugar levels could rise.

Before starting up an exercise program, you should talk to your doctor about what could help or harm you, especially if you've been inactive. Work with your doctor to create a program that is tailored to your needs, and consider the best time to exercise as well as the potential impact of medications on your blood sugar as you become more active.

Sources: MayoClinic and Health.com

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