If you live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, exercise is one of the best things you can do to offset diabetic damage to your heart and circulatory system. Staying active helps you manage blood sugar, prevent insulin resistance, lower triglycerides, and shed excess weight. Regular workouts also lower your risk of depression, help you sleep better and help you maintain strength, flexibility and strong bones.
So, what’s the problem? While exercise is good for your diabetes, it can also cause your blood sugar to drop, making balance tough if you’re not prepared. What’s more, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), in some people, particularly those who have diabetic neuropathy, weight-bearing exercise raises the risk of injury to your legs and feet. But the reverse is also true—by promoting good circulation, exercise can also prevent and slow the development of neuropathy.
Confused? Get the exercise you need—and stay well—by following six smart workout rules.
- Check your blood sugar before you exercise. ”Diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t exercise or even become an athlete,” says Bob Greene, author of The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes. “It just means that you have to be sure to get the right combination of medications, carbohydrates and calories to keep blood sugar in a safe zone while exercising.” This is particularly important if you’re taking insulin. Test your blood sugar 30 minutes before exercise. To exercise safely, your blood sugar should be between 100 to 250 mg/dL. If it’s lower than 100 mg/dL, eat a small carb snack, such as bread, crackers or fruit. If it’s higher than 250 mg/dL, you may have high ketones. Don’t exercise until all levels are within a safe range.
- Watch for low blood sugar after exercise. Exercise can lower blood sugar, immediately after exercise and for up to 12 hours afterwards. So check blood sugar after workouts, and eat or take insulin to compensate if needed.
- Protect your feet from impact. Wear solid, protective exercise shoes with plenty of impact resistance. And make sure they fit well to avoid blisters, which can get infected. Add gel or air insoles for even more protection. If you have neuropathy and weight-bearing exercise is problematic for you, swimming may be a better choice.
- Wear breathable fabrics. Because fungal infections like athlete’s foot are more common in people with diabetes, wear clothes and socks that let your skin breathe. Choose cotton or moisture-wicking socks and loose, cotton clothing.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before and during exercise. Dehydration causes blood sugar to rise. The ADA recommends drinking 17 ounces of fluid two hours before you plan to walk, run, or work out.
- Don’t exercise in the heat. Heat makes you sweat, which can lead to dehydration and higher blood sugar. Exercise during cooler times of day or in air conditioned rooms and avoid exercising in heated rooms. (This means Bikram yoga—aka, hot yoga—is a no-no.)