Exercise is as important to treating your diabetes as taking medications. It has a tremendous impact on your blood glucose levels. It's key that you learn which activities you can do and how often you need to do them to help keep the glucose levels in your blood as close to normal as possible — your health depends on it.
Consult Your Doctor
It's wise to see your doctor before starting a new exercise program. He or she can:
- give you a physical exam to make sure you're healthy
- refer you to an exercise specialist
- help you choose an exercise plan
- help you set attainable goals
Create a Plan
Many people drop out of exercise programs because they start out with expectations that are too high, or they are too hard on themselves and don't recognize their step-by-step accomplishments. A physical activity specialist can help you overcome these obstacles by helping you set a plan — complete with goals — for your exercise program. Some people find it helpful to get an exercise prescription from their doctors.
Set Realistic and Attainable Goals
Tracking the amount of exercise you do every day requires only a minute of your time, but it can take you a long way toward meeting your goals and helping you stay healthy along the way. Here are some of the benefits of tracking your exercise:
- It helps you notice your progress so that you can give yourself a pat on the back.
- It can help you stick with your efforts, because you don't want to see blank spaces on your log or diary.
- It can help you see when it's time to vary your routine or add more time to your workouts.
- It can help you keep track of how your diabetes affects your exercise.
- It provides a record for you to share with your doctors.
- It can contribute to your feeling and belief that you are a person who is making conscious efforts to be as healthy as you can be.
Use an Exercise Diary
- List your long- and short-term goals.
- Note your blood glucose readings before, during and after physical activity.
- Make notes about how you felt during and after exercising and any problems you may have encountered.
Share your diary with your physical activity specialist and your doctor regularly to update your program and make adjustments as needed.
People who are serious about exercise know there are two key steps to preventing injury and to simply feeling good during exercise. First, you should exercise only as long as you are comfortable, and second, you need to warm up and cool down.
Start slowly and build up. Don't try to do too much too soon. If you've not been physically active, doing too much will make you feel sore and tired, and that may discourage you from continuing. Instead, take a gradual approach, and build up your activity routine as you become fit. A general rule is to increase by no more than 10 percent a week. If, for instance, you're walking for 20 minutes each day, the next week try walking for 22 minutes. Also, use the so-called talk test. If you can't carry on a conversation while you work out, you're probably doing too much.
Warm up, cool down and stretch. To prepare your body for activity and to avoid injury, warm up with 5 to 10 minutes of an easy-does-it activity such as walking or easy bike peddling. Then you may want to stretch gently for 5 to 10 minutes, warming up all the muscle groups. After your workout, repeat with a 5-minute to 10-minute cool-down and stretching session.
Shoot for 30 minutes of exercise a day, if you can. The 30 minutes do not have to be all at once, especially when you're just starting out. You might do three 10-minute sessions of exercise each day at first. As you exercise more, you'll find that you can gradually exercise for longer periods. What is key is that you exercise as many days a week as you can. Three days a week is the minimum, but you'll see more benefits if you exercise five or six days a week. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week, total, of at least moderate-intensity exercise. "Moderate intensity" means enough to raise your heart rate; you might enjoy a brisk walk, a bike ride or a swim. To maximize the effect of exercise on blood glucose control, don't go more than a day or two without exercise.
Add resistance exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people with type 2 diabetes include resistance training (also called weight training) at least twice a week. The American Diabetes Association suggests aiming for three times a week. Doing at least 8-10 different weight-lifting exercises, with 10-15 repetitions each, can help build muscle and may add to the benefits of exercise for glucose control. Check with your doctor before starting: some people, especially those with certain heart problems or diabetes-related eye problems, should not do these exercises.
Written by Bobbie Hasselbring
Reviewed by Beth Seltzer, MD
Last updated June 2008