Getting enough regular physical activity is important for maintaining good health and ensuring good diabetes management. While you may be thinking ‘that’s easier said than done’, you may be surprised to learn that exercising isn’t about ‘no pain-no gain’. Regular physical activity can become an enjoyable part of your day with long-term benefits to your diabetes and your overall health.
Physical activity benefits everyone in many ways but for people with diabetes, being regular physical activity, eating well and not smoking are both very important to your future health.
In this Section
Physical activity is essential to everyone to stay healthy. For people with diabetes, being regularly physically active has even greater benefits.
For the person with diabetes, physical activity helps to:
- Improve the body’s response to insulin which can lower blood glucose levels.
- Lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease.
- Control weight.
- Reduce the risk of developing diabetes complications.
Other positives include:
- Reduced stress and tension
- Increased energy levels
- Improved sleep
- Stronger bones
- Improved mood.
> Back to top
Basically anything that not only gets you moving more but you actually enjoy doing. Not everyone finds activity enjoyable, so it is important to do something you like, rather than doing something you don’t enjoy and then allowing it to become an excuse not to be active.Here are some ideas
- Walking is easy, cheap and doesn’t take any special skill – just a good pair of walking shoes – plus you can change the pace and distance as you get fitter.
- Be creative and try something different! How about ballroom dancing, water aerobics, water walking or Tai Chi? Check with your local library or community centre to see if there are any free programs in your area.
- Stand and move about rather than sitting while on the phone or waiting in a queue.
- Consider buying a pedometer (step counter) and count your daily steps, aiming to increase to a level you and your doctor may decide. \Think about all the things you do using a machine or gadget. Could you do them in a more active way?
Aim to do at least 30 minutes of ‘moderate intensity’ physical activity (such as brisk walking or swimming) on most, if not all, days of the week – this can be two 15-minute sessions or even three 10-minute sessions. To achieve a level of ‘moderate intensity’ physical activity that is helpful, you need to notice your breathing and heart rate speeding up and perhaps a light sweat. If on the other hand you’re gasping and unable to talk, the activity is too strenuous. Alternatively, do three 20-minute sessions of ‘vigorous intensity’ exercise (such as jogging, aerobics class or strenuous gardening) per week.
Try to include some ‘resistance training’ twice a week, doing 8–10 different exercises using all the major muscle groups. Repeat each exercise 8–12 times. This might include body weight exercises such as wall pushups, sitting and standing from a chair, calf raises or lifting weights such as cans of food or plastic bottles of water. Lift a weight that you can lift 8–12 times but find difficult to lift on the last few repetitions. If you are unsure how to do resistance training exercises safely, consult an exercise physiologist, physiotherapist or other appropriate health professional.
If you’re trying to lose weight, this may not be enough. It depends on how active you are already and other things such as the food you eat. Discuss it with your doctor or dietitian.
> Back to top
Diabetes can put you at risk of certain conditions that could be affected by physical activity. This check list will help you to take on an activity program with safety.
- Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new activity program. Your doctor will consider your blood glucose levels, any diabetes related complications and the condition of your heart and blood vessels.
- Your doctor may advise you to have a stress test as a precaution if you:
> are over 35
> have had type 2 diabetes for more than 10 years
> have high blood pressure
> have had heart problems.
- As most physical activity involves using your feet, consider seeing a podiatrist before you start your program for advice on suitable footwear.
> Back to top
- Each time you set out on your activity session, make a mental commitment: “This is forever”. Believe that physical activity is as vital to your health as the air you breathe.
- It often helps to stay committed by doing your activity sessions with a friend or family member or as part of a regular group.
- Aim to do your activity sessions at regular times and on set days.
- Wear good quality, well fitting, closed-in footwear as recommended by your podiatrist.
- Do not be physically active if you are unwell.
- Start slowly and gradually increase the pace and length of time of each session. Don’t push yourself so you develop sore muscles or blisters on your feet.
- If you are on diabetes tablets or insulin, always carry quickly absorbed glucose such as jellybeans or glucose tablets in case your blood glucose level drops too low. For more information refer to the Hypoglycaemia and Diabetes information sheet.
- Wear sunscreen and layer your clothing so you can add or remove clothes as needed.
- Don’t get dehydrated. Drink enough water to avoid thirst and remember you will need a bit more than usual.
- Take short breaks along the way if being active for long periods.
- Wear diabetes identification (eg: Medic Alert®).
> Back to top
- Stop and rest if you experience chest, abdominal, neck or arm pain, or tightness or even vague discomfort. Stop and rest if you feel breathless, faint or light headed or have any other unusual symptoms while exercising. These symptoms could mean heart trouble that requires urgent treatment.
If these symptoms – any symptoms – do not settle within 10 minutes, you or
someone with you MUST call an ambulance to take you to the nearest hospital
emergency department immediately.
If the symptoms settle in less than 10 minutes, you should go to your doctor as
soon as possible for a checkup. This must be done before you do more exercise.
- If you experience leg pain, stop until the pain goes away then resume your activity. Tell your doctor about the leg pain if you have not already done so. Gradually you should be able to exercise longer without getting leg pain, but sometimes treatment is required.
> Back to top
- Check your feet at least once a day, looking for signs of wear and tear such as redness, blisters or cracks.
- For your first couple of sessions it is a good idea to test your blood glucose level before, during and afterwards, especially if you’re on diabetes tablets or insulin. By doing this you will soon learn how your body responds to activity.
- Physical activity can lower your blood glucose level for up to 48 hours. You might notice a temporary rise in your blood glucose level after activity. This rise varies between individuals and is due to the release of hormones during periods of intense muscle activity.
- Set yourself goals such as walking for 30 minutes every day for a week, and when you reach your goals, reward yourself with a movie, a new shirt or a low fat latte.
> Back to top
As everybody reacts differently, it is important to know your own blood glucose response to activity. Many of the early signs of a low blood glucose level (eg: sweating, feeling faint and weakness) are also feelings you may have during physical activity and can therefore go unnoticed. It may be necessary for adjustments to be made to your medication, insulin or eating plan based on your blood glucose level. Your diabetes educator, dietitian and doctor can assist you.
If you have questions or concerns about any activity program, talk to your doctor or diabetes educator or contact your State or Territory Diabetes Organisation on 1300 136 588.