Exercising With Diabetes
Tips, Strategies, and Precautions
Russell D. White, MD, with Carl Sherman
Series Editor: Nicholas A. DiNubile, MD
THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE - VOL 4 - NO. 27 - APRIL 1999
If you have diabetes, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to stay—or begin to be—active. A regular exercise program can help stabilize your blood sugar, reduce your need for insulin and medication, and keep your weight under control. Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease, but exercise can lower it. Best of all, exercise helps you get more out of life.
Because of some of the risks of your disease, however, it is important to consult your doctor before starting an exercise program. He or she may want to conduct a thorough physical exam to help you design a safe, pleasurable program. You may need a stress test to evaluate your heart and to determine the best level of exercise for you.
The activities most likely to help control your disease and reduce the risk of heart disease are aerobic—exercises such as walking, jogging, biking, or swimming that you do strenuously enough to raise your pulse and make you breathe harder. You'll get maximum benefits if you participate in 30 minutes or more of such activities at least three times a week. In addition, strength training (weight lifting) can also help improve fitness and heart health.
If you haven't been active, build up to this level slowly. Start by walking 5 minutes a day, at a comfortable pace. Increase the length and speed of your walk as you feel stronger.
And remember: Any exercise is better than none. Physical activity built into your day—taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking at the far end of the lot for a longer walk to your office—helps to satisfy your need for exercise.
Which exercise? Choose a sport or activity you will enjoy doing regularly. But some activities may not be suitable:
Prevent injuries by warming up before exercise with 5 to 10 minutes of moderate activity and then stretching, and by cooling down slowly for 5 to 10 minutes after exercise. Walking at a medium pace is a good warm-up or cool-down activity.
Exercise changes your body's metabolism in healthful ways (for example, it increases the rate at which you burn glucose for fuel). But you must take steps to regulate the process properly. Planning for trouble-free activity with the help of your doctor may include these steps:
Making It Fun
If exercise is going to do you good, you need to keep at it—so it needs to be a pleasure, not a burden. Many people find it most enjoyable to work out with others—a friend or a group that takes regular morning walks, for example. Also, you're less likely to skip sessions if someone is depending on you.
Finding a pleasant setting for exercise will also help keep you motivated. Try a park near work where you can walk, or find a clean, attractive health club.
If your schedule is tight, make exercise time productive: Prop your newspaper up on your stationary bike, or park your treadmill in front of the TV so you can watch the early-morning business report.
And remember: Exercise is a way of life—enjoy it!
Information Sources for Active Patients With Diabetes
Here are some resources for people who have diabetes and want to know more about exercise:
Remember: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. Before starting an exercise program, consult a physician.
Dr White is associate director of the family practice residency and director of the sports medicine fellowship program at Bayfront Medical Center in St Petersburg, Florida. He has had type 1 diabetes for 40 years without complications. He regularly jogs or bicycles 3 to 4 days a week, varying his activity to prevent boredom, and occasionally goes on 4- to 5-hour group cycling treks. Mr Sherman is a freelance writer in New York City. Dr DiNubile is an orthopedic surgeon in private practice in Havertown, Pennsylvania, specializing in sports medicine and arthroscopy.