Regular physical activity can actually lower your blood sugar and help you live longer. “The evidence is that exercise reduces mortality and morbidity for just about all populations with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2,” says diabetes specialist Maureen Clement, MD. Before you head for an intense workout, here are six exercise tips to keep in mind.
1. First, talk with your doc
If your exercise regime will involve more than a daily brisk walk, check in first with your healthcare professional. You’ll want to be assessed for any diabetes complications such as those involving the cardiovascular or nervous system. Depending on your medications and health status, some types of activity may not be recommended.
2. Get the right gear
When you exercise, make sure you always carry an emergency snack or drink that will raise your blood sugar quickly, like glucose tablets, hard candy, or fruit juice. It’s also a very good idea to wear your medical alert bracelet or some other visible tag that identifies your diabetes.
3. Modify your meals and insulin as needed
Although physical activity can lead to lower blood sugar on average, you may experience a spike after exercise. It may be especially noticeable if you have type 1 diabetes. But even if you have type 2, you may find your blood glucose levels are higher during or after a short, intense activity. A competitive sport, for example, can get your adrenalin pumping, and that will raise your blood sugar. Check your blood glucose levels before, during, and even long after you finish your exercise to learn how your body is responding. “You have to figure out how to adjust your food and insulin for exercise,” says Dr. Clement.
4. Look out for a sugar low
If you’re trying a new activity or going for a longer, more intense workout, it’s especially important to check your blood glucose level every half hour. If your sugar measures less than 72 mg/dl, or if you have symptoms of hypoglycemia like trembling or confusion, stop the activity right away. Consume a fast-acting food or drink—preferably a carbohydrate—to raise your blood sugar. If you have type 1 diabetes, try to avoid intense exercise late in the day. That can increase your risk of overnight hypoglycemia.
5. Watch your feet
Protect your feet from damage by taking a few sensible precautions. Wear cotton or cotton-polyester socks, and choose shoes that feel good and fit well. Keep your feet dry, and check them regularly for blisters.
6. Drink up
If you have diabetes, it’s even more critical to stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause blood sugar problems as well as stress your heart. Drink plenty of water before and during physical activity. If it’s hot out, be sure to load up on extra fluid.
By taking a bit of care, you can enjoy physical activity safely. “Exercise has so many benefits,” Dr. Clement notes. “It’s more than recommended: It’s a necessary element in the management of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.”
Web exclusive August 2010 Best Health magazine