Regular Exercise and Diabetes: Why It Matters


Diabetes is a condition that affects millions of people around the world. Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are two of the most common forms of diabetes, and they both require close attention to diet and lifestyle to manage blood sugar levels. Exercise is one such lifestyle factor that plays a crucial role in managing diabetes, and it can be an effective way to lower blood sugar levels, sometimes as effectively as medications. In this blog post, we will delve into why regular exercise is important for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes and provide some useful tips for getting started.

The Importance of Exercise for People with Diabetes

Studies have shown that regular physical activity can have a significant impact on blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. In fact, for some people with type 2 diabetes, exercise may work as effectively as some medications and with fewer side effects. Exercise helps to reduce blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing insulin resistance. Additionally, regular physical activity also helps to control weight, reduce blood pressure, and improve cardiovascular health, all of which are important factors in managing diabetes.

How Much and What Kind of Exercise is Best?

The American Diabetes Association recommends at least 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity every week for people with diabetes. Aerobic exercises include activities with continuous movement, such as brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, and other activities that increase your heart rate. At the beginning, shorter exercise sessions of 5-10 minutes are recommended for anyone who isn’t currently physically active, gradually increasing the duration over time.

Resistance exercise, another type of physical activity, is also recommended two to three times per week. These exercises involve the use of free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, or using your own body’s weight to build and/or maintain muscle and strength (for example, push-ups, sit-ups, lunges). Studies have shown the benefits of both aerobic and resistance exercise for people with diabetes, and together they will have a greater impact.

When to Check Blood Sugar Levels After Exercise

If you take insulin or medications that increase the release of insulin, it’s important to track your blood sugar before, during, and after exercise. This will show you how your body responds to exercise, which can help you prevent potentially dangerous blood sugar fluctuations.

How Does Exercise Affect Blood Sugar Levels?

Exercise can affect blood sugar levels by decreasing them. The more strenuous the workout, the longer you will experience the effect on your blood sugar. Some intense exercises, such as heavy weightlifting, produce adrenaline, which can cause a temporary increase in blood sugar levels. However, exercise will not make it harder to stay in your target range; instead, it can help you manage blood sugar levels more effectively.

Dealing with Highs or Lows After a Workout

It’s important to be familiar with the symptoms of low and high blood sugar levels and understand the causes of these fluctuations. Symptoms of low blood sugar levels include feeling shaky, hungry, weak/drowsy, or experiencing an increased heart rate. Symptoms of high blood sugar levels include feeling tired, thirsty, and frequently urinating. To avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), people with type 1 diabetes can adjust insulin and increase carbohydrate consumption, while people with type 2 diabetes can ensure proper hydration and monitor for signs of dehydration. To treat low blood sugars, consume a fast-acting carbohydrate, such as glucose tabs, juice, or honey, and wait 15 minutes before checking blood sugar levels again. To treat highs, adjust your diet, physical activity, and medications (insulin).

What to Do Before Starting an Exercise Routine

It’s important to talk to your doctor before with any intense exercise that is more difficult than brisk walking if you have been inactive for a while. It’s always a good idea to have a conversation with your healthcare provider to understand any potential risks and to make sure that the exercise plan you are starting is safe and suitable for you.

Additionally, it’s essential to be familiar with the signs of low blood sugar and carry a fast-acting carbohydrate (such as glucose tablets) with you in case you experience a drop in your blood sugar levels during exercise. If you take medications to treat your diabetes, make sure to talk to your doctor as your dose might need to be adjusted depending on your level of exercise.

In conclusion, regular exercise is important for individuals living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Whether you are just starting out or looking to maintain a fitness routine, it’s essential to understand how your body reacts to exercise and what to do in case of highs or lows. By working closely with your doctor and monitoring your blood sugar levels, you can safely and effectively incorporate exercise into your routine and achieve a healthier lifestyle.