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Exercising With Diabetes: What to Do Before, During, and After

You’ve heard the advice: get active at least 30 minutes every day, as many days of the week as you can. But what if you’re short on time and the idea of the gym doesn’t thrill you? We've got some tips on getting active outside of the gym, along with a checklist for safe exercise when you have diabetes.

The benefits of exercise are endless, particularly for those with diabetes. Exercise can help you burn excess body fat, which not only helps with weight control, but also helps your body’s insulin sensitivity. It also helps relieve stress and boosts mood and overall health.

Aerobic exercise can help reduce the risk of heart disease, a particular problem for people with diabetes. Resistance exercise helps build muscle, which is important for fat burning and glucose control.

Exercise Tips for a Healthier You

Exercise will help you control your diabetes and reduce the risk of complications from diabetes. There are a few things to keep in mind, however, to make sure you exercise safely:

  • Get your doctor’s approval before starting an exercise program.
  • Carry at least 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate, such as a half-cup of fruit juice, 5 hard candies, or glucose tablets or gels that equal 15 grams, in case of low blood sugar.
  • Wear well-fitting shoes appropriate to the activity you’re doing, and choose athletic polyester synthetic socks. They dry quicker and cause less friction than all-cotton socks.
  • Inspect your feet before and after exercise, checking for blisters or sores.
  • Drink plenty of fluid before, during, and after exercise
  • Wear your medical identification bracelet or carry your ID in your pocket.
  • Check your blood glucose level before and after exercise to make sure it’s in target range. Talk with your doctor and find out what your blood sugar needs to be before going out to exercise. This is especially important for anyone taking insulin.
  • If you feel shaky, anxious, unusually sweaty, or feel a change in your heartbeat, stop exercising immediately and check your blood sugar. If it is low follow your doctor’s advice about how to treat low blood sugar.
  • Always warm up for 5 to 10 minutes (slow walking, biking, etc) at the beginning of your workout and do 5 to 10 minutes of cool down and gentle stretches at the end of your workout.

Quick Gym-Free Workouts

Can’t afford a health club or personal trainer? That’s not a problem. Anything that gets your heart pumping and causes you to break a sweat will do. And here’s a little secret: You don’t have to do 30 minutes all at once. Ten minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon, and 10 minutes after dinner is just fine.

Here are some easy daily activities that count toward your daily goal.

  • Walk the dog. If you don’t have a pet, walk with a friend or neighbor. Better yet, enlist the support of coworkers and take a stroll at lunch.
  • Rake leaves, mow the lawn, or dig in the dirt to clean up your garden.
  • Play tag with the kids or grandkids. If your schedule allows, consider volunteering to coach a team sport.
  • Ballroom dance. You can also take dance lessons -- modern, ballet, or hip-hop. It doesn’t matter what type of dance you choose, as long as you get moving.
  • Roller skate. It burns about 225 calories per hour and helps you use muscles you may have neglected for awhile.
  • Play tennis, or any team sport. You’ll make some new friends in addition to staying active.
  • Swim. Swimming is a great total body workout, and helps you feel relaxed. It’s also a great way to get active if you want a low-impact workout that is easy on your joints.
  • Take a nightly after-dinner walk. Walking at the end of day can help you unwind and feel less stressed after a busy day. Take a different route and make sure to challenge yourself with plenty of hills and new routes.
  • Wash your car or clean the house. Even if you organize your closets and don’t do a deep cleaning, you’re still moving.

Try to sneak activity into your day whenever and wherever you can:

  • When doing work around the house, pump up some fun music and exaggerate all your movements. Squat while you work. Bend from the hips and knees, almost like you're sitting in a chair, making sure your knees never go farther forward than your toes.
  • Always use the stairs instead of the elevator. If you’re going to a high floor, get off a couple of floors below and climb the rest of the way.
  • While at work, don't use the phone. Walk over to a co-worker’s desk for a face-to-face.
  • Pace back and forth whenever you're on the phone, at home or at work.
  • Always park your car at the far end of the parking lot. And bring your bags out to the car after every purchase.

Stay Consistent With Exercise

Most people drop their exercise program as quickly as they started it. Don’t let that happen to you. Here’s how to stay consistent with this healthy habit:

  • Don’t go all gung-ho. If you’re not used to exercising, ease into it to prevent burn out and injuries.
  • Find an exercise buddy. You’re more likely to show up if someone is depending on you.
  • Put exercise on your calendar just as you would any other appointment.
  • Switch it up. Variations in activity will keep you from getting bored, and keep your body from getting too efficient at any one activity so it constantly keeps burning calories.
  • Set doable, attainable goals. For example, you’ll walk for 10 minutes after lunch at least 4 days a week for the next two weeks. After that, up your goal to walking 15 minutes. Write your goals on an index card and hang them where you’ll most likely see them – on the bathroom mirror, the fridge, or on your car dashboard.

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