“You don’t need to run a marathon to get results,” says Dawn Sherr, RD, of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “Walking, swimming, and playing with the grandkids are all great ways to get exercise.”
Follow these four steps to get started.
Step 1: Make a Plan
If you’re just starting, ask your doctor which exercise is right for you. Ask if you need to adjust your diabetes medicine before you hit the trail or the pool.
Next, think about what you’ll enjoy most. You’re more likely to stick with activities you like. Here are a few suggestions:
- Walk outdoors or indoors on a track or in a mall
- Take a dance class
- Bicycle outdoors or ride a stationary bike indoors
- Swim or try water aerobics
- Try yoga or tai chi
- Play tennis
- Take aerobics or another fitness class
- Do housework, yard chores, or gardening
- Try resistance training with light weights or elastic bands
If more than one of these appeals to you, go for them! In fact, combining cardio, like walking or swimming, with stretching or balance moves gives you a better workout. Any way you move will help lower your blood sugar.
How It Works
When you do moderate exercise, like walking, that makes your heart beat a little faster and breathe a little harder. Your muscles use more glucose, the sugar in your blood stream. Over time, this can lower your blood sugar levels. It also makes the insulin in your body work better. You’ll get these benefits for hours after your walk or workout.
Just remember you don’t have to overdo it. Strenuous exercise can sometimes increase blood sugar temporarily after you stop exercising. Very intense exercise can cause the body to make more stress hormones which can lead to an increase in blood sugar.
Step 2: Set a Schedule
The best time to exercise may be after a meal. Ask your doctor what time of day is best for you. Take the dog for a walk after breakfast and dinner. Or schedule a yoga class or a round of tennis after lunch.
Step 3: Get Ready
- Wear well-fitting, comfortable shoes and cotton socks that don’t rub. The right footwear can prevent blisters that could become serious infections for some people with diabetes.
- Check your blood sugar before a brisk walk or workout. If it’s below 100, check with your doctor to see if you need to eat a snack first.
- Carry a snack or glucose tablets in case your blood sugar gets low.
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout.
- Always wear your diabetes ID necklace or bracelet while you’re exercising.
Step 4: Go!
Start exercising a few days a week and slowly build up from there. Try a 10-minute walk three days a week. On two other days, stretch for 5 minutes. Gradually add 5 or 10 more minutes of exercise each day. For most people, a healthy goal is 30 minutes of moderate exercise such as walking most days of the week.
Each time you exercise, write down how long you worked out and your blood sugar levels before and after. Over time, you’ll see how exercise improves your blood sugar.
Take it slowly at first and listen to your body. As you get used to exercise, you can start to make your workout more challenging. Add more time to your activity or increase your pace a little. You might be surprised at what you can do — and how much you enjoy it.