If you have diabetes, your doctor may have been telling you for ages: You need to exercise more. Physical activity helps control blood sugar and cuts your risk of heart problems and other diabetes complications. But knowing that you're supposed to exercise doesn't make it easier to do it.
On top of the problems that everybody has sticking to an exercise plan -- busy schedules, families, work -- diabetes itself creates barriers to staying fit. Diabetes complications such as nerve damage, foot problems, eye disease, and fatigue can all make exercise harder.
What can you do? How can someone with diabetes who's never liked exercise much start getting fit? Here are some exercise ideas for people with diabetes, no matter what shape they're in.
Diabetes and Exercise: How Much and Why?
According to experts, people with diabetes should ultimately aim for:
- 150 minutes or more of aerobic exercise each week. Studies have shown that regular physical activities such as aerobic exercise can make insulin work better, lower blood sugar, and may reduce the risk of diabetes complications such as heart attacks. Brisk walks, biking, tennis, or anything else that gets your heart rate up are great.
- 2 to 3 sessions of strength training each week. The more muscle mass you have, the better your body is at processing blood sugar. Muscle also burns more calories than fat. Lifting weights, calisthenics, and resistance exercises will help.
If you haven't been working out, 150 minutes may sound like an awful lot of exercise. Don't get intimidated -- instead, divide it up. For example, that's 30 minutes, 5 days a week. And you don't have to do the 30 minutes all at once. Exercise for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes in the evening, and you've got 30 minutes total.
And if you're just starting out? Any exercise at all is good for you, even if you only do it for 5 or 10 minutes a day. Once you're used to that, gradually increase the amount of daily exercise.
If you have diabetes and haven't been exercising, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting a regular exercise program.
Best Diabetes Exercises
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, just about any activity that gets your heart rate up or builds strength is a good idea. Anything from line dancing to table tennis can work. Here are a few to try.
- Walk more -- briskly. For most people with diabetes, walking is a great choice. It's easy. You can do it anywhere. You don't need any equipment beyond a good pair of sneakers. However, if you have foot problems from diabetes, your doctor may recommend minimizing the time you spend on your feet.
- Get off your feet. If you have poor circulation and nerve damage, opt for low-impact exercises to protect your feet from injury. Swimming and stationary biking are both good choices.
- Consider tai chi or yoga. Some studies show that both are effective ways to lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. They also help reduce stress as well.
- Be safe when weight-lifting. Starting a weight training program may have a big impact on your glucose levels and how you feel. You want your routine to involve major muscle groups in the upper and lower parts of your body and your core. One warning: in some people with vision damage related to diabetes, heavy weight lifting can injure blood vessels in the eyes. If you have vision problems from diabetes, talk to a doctor before you start lifting weights.