Diabetes and exercise

Especially in non-insulin dependent diabetes (type 2 diabetes), exercise plays a very important role in the treatment of diabetes. The number of people in the UK who are overweight is on the increase, and as a result type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common.

Why Is Weight Gain Becoming Such a Problem?

Our bodies store fuel as fat if we take in more than we need. This energy from food is only burned properly if we engage in physical exercise.

By now, however, we’re getting significantly less exercise than we did just a few years ago:

  • Many people choose to drive even when their destination is within walking distance
  • Many of us have jobs which involve sitting behind computers for hours on end
  • Technology means we spend huge amounts of time surfing the Internet, playing video games, watching TV and generally becoming couch potatoes
  • We sit in trains for hours commuting.

While 50 years ago feeding ourselves would have involved working in a plot of land, now all we have to do is go to the supermarket. As a result, our entire nature is getting larger because our activity levels have dropped so low.

Get Active and Stay Active

An active lifestyle has any number of different benefits, including:

  • Helping you to maintain a healthy weight or reach a weight goal;
  • Regular activity can help to reduce the amount of insulin you have to take by helping your body use it more efficiently;
  • Helping your bones to grow stronger;
  • Helping you to get better sleep;
  • Reducing stress levels and symptoms of depression and anxiety;
  • Improving your diabetes management (especially Type 2 diabetes);
  • Increasing the amount of glucose used by the muscles for energy, sometimes resulting in lower blood glucose (sugar) levels.

Type 1 Diabetes and Safe Exercise

If you have type 1 diabetes, you can still exercise and take part in all of your favourite sports. To do this safely, however, you will have to take some extra steps.

Your blood glucose levels will be affected by any sports and exercise you take part in. It can cause your blood glucose levels to drop (hypoglycaemia) or rise (hyperglycaemia) depending on which activities you do. A slow drop in blood glucose levels can occur as a result of moderate exercise over longer periods of time, like cycling or walking. Meanwhile, your blood glucose levels can rise if you take part in exercises like football or running.

You can avoid this if you’re careful.

If you eat the right amount of carbs before, during and after your exercise, you should be able to avoid hypos. You’ll need to check your blood glucose regularly and adjust your insulin when necessary. You can get help with this from your diabetes team.

It might take a little while to find what works for you, because exercise will affect everyone a little differently. However frustrating it gets, try to keep trying.

The right exercise can help reduce glucose spikes after meals, as well as improving your physical and mental health.

Keep these tips in mind as you go:

  • It’ll be easier to work out what you should eat and when to change your insulin dosage if you check your blood glucose before and during each activity.
  • After you exercise, check your blood glucose levels at regular intervals. It can take up to 12 hours for your glucose levels to be affected, and you might need to lower your dose of insulin or take extra carbohydrate later in the day.
  • Make sure you stay properly hydrated by drinking lots of water.
  • If you exercise, it’s likely you’ll need extra carbohydrate to prevent hypos.
  • Record your blood glucose levels and what you eat when you exercise – share this with your diabetes team to help find what works for you.

How Much Exercise Do I Need?

If you want to improve your fitness level and reduce your cardiovascular risk, you’ll need to take a 30-40 minute brisk walk at least 3 times each week. However, you should be aiming to exercise five days out of seven (if not daily) because both excess weight and diabetes have the potential to increase your risk of stroke and heart disease.

You can easily increase your activity levels by…

  • Leaving the lift or escalator and taking the stairs.
  • Getting off the train or bus a stop early and walking the rest of the way.
  • Playing golf, walking the dog or swimming on a regular basis.
  • Using your lunch break to go for a stroll.
  • Cycling or walking short journeys rather than using the car.

Things like this can help turn exercise from an extra thing you “have to do” to just another part of the day. You can also get a bit of exercise through energetic housework like hoovering and gardening. It’s easier to avoid exercise if it’s set aside as something only done in a certain place or time, so it’s best to try and incorporate it into your regular life.

To help keep your blood glucose stable for as long as you can, it’s also a good idea to spread your activity across the day rather than doing it all in one burst.

For more information about diabetes, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to Diabetes which will look at what the diabetic condition is, the difference between Type 1 and Type 2, how you become diabetic, the types of medication available and how you can manage it. Your body deserves the best, and we want to arm you with the information you need to provide that!

For ideas to maintain fitness easily and without the headache of gym fees BX Plans for Men, Women and children is a great place to start.

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