Your exercise program

The benefits of exercise

Don't break into a sweat over a little exercise! Exercise is an important part of your diabetes treatment.

Regular exercise helps insulin work better and can help fight off illness.

Exercise is also a mood elevator and helps to lift the blues which can be associated with diabetes.

Exercise is important for all people, especially those with diabetes.

  • If you exercise regularly, you'll feel better, both mentally and physically.
  • If your blood pressure is high, it will start to come down.
  • If you're overweight, physical activity will help shed those pounds.

Exercise is also good for your heart. So with a regular exercise program, your insulin will be more effective, your heart will work better, your muscles will become stronger, and you'll feel a lot better.

Before starting an exercise program

Consult with your doctor and health professional team before you start. It is important to have your diabetes under good control before you start a new exercise program.

If you take insulin, your daily diet habits and insulin doses should be consistent so that you know how to balance your food intake and insulin/medication.

If you're not sure about this, try keeping a diary of your daily routines. Record what you eat and when, as well as how much insulin/medication you take and at what time in your diary.

Check your blood sugar level before and after you exercise and keep track of the results. You'll begin to see a pattern in how your body responds to what you do.

You should always check your blood sugar level before you start an exercise session and again 30 to 45 minutes later. This will show you how the activity has affected your blood sugar level.

Show your diary to your doctor and health care professional. By discussing it together, you can adjust your insulin doses or oral medication as needed to reduce the risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia ) during exercise.

If you use insulin, you may need to work with your doctor or diabetes educator to modify your insulin dosage over time.

How active should I be?

Health experts recommend to accumulate up to 60 minutes of exercise every day to stay healthy or to improve your health.

If you are just starting out, consult your doctor or health professional first.

It is important to start off slowly for at least 5 to 10 minutes of exercise per day. Gradually build this up to 60 minutes a day over a period of time.

The amount of time you spend being physically active really depends on the intensity of the activity. As you progress to more moderate activities (like brisk walking, swimming or biking), you can cut down to 30 minutes of physical activity, 4 days a week.

If you're not exercising already, it's simply a matter of getting started! But remember, when you exercise, your body uses extra glucose. That means your blood sugar level could drop both during and after physical activity. If you plan to exercise for longer than 30 minutes, you may need a small snack first.

Exercise affects different people in different ways. Check with your dietician if you will need to take a snack during exercise. It is also important to check your blood sugar before and after you exercise.

Remember: As a precaution, always carry a quick acting form of sugar when you are exercising. This can be taken immediately in the event of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

During exercise

If you can, it is best to exercise at the same time each day. Try to exercise within an hour after eating a meal. That's when your blood sugar level is rising and there is less risk of severe hypoglycemia occurring.

If you exercise for less than 30 minutes, you may need to eat both before and after exercise. The best choices before exercise are slowly absorbed carbohydrate foods, like bread.

If you exercise for more than 30 minutes, you may need to eat or drink something that contains carbohydrates during the exercise session. The best choices are carbohydrates that are absorbed quickly, like fruit juice or a sports drink. You'll probably also need to eat something after exercise too.

If you're not sure how long you will be exercising, be sure to eat some extra carbohydrate before, during and after the exercise session.

Discuss your exercise routine and the best food choices with your dietician.

Important: If your exercise session is in the afternoon or evening, remember to check your blood sugar level before you go to bed! Because your body uses extra glucose when you exercise, your blood sugar level could drop both during and also after physical activity.

Exercise and complications

Strenuous exercise can cause your blood pressure to rise. If you have high blood pressure or kidney disease (nephropathy), you should avoid strenuous exercise.

This is also true if you have diabetes-related eye disease (retinopathy) because high blood pressure can increase the risk of bleeding within the eye.

If you have diabetes-related nerve damage (neuropathy) or poor circulation in the legs, you must choose your shoes and socks with extra care in order to avoid getting sores and blisters. In this situation, it may be best to avoid exercise that is hard on your feet.

Important: If you have heart disease, you must talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program.