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The Effects of Exercise on Diabetes

If you are a diabetic, you may have heard of the debate between whether exercise is helpful to people with diabetes or whether it can be harmful. Some people believe that exercise can potentially do more harm than good, especially in those who take insulin. This is because exercise can cause unusually low blood sugar. However, if by taking the right precautions before exercising, you can significantly decrease the risk of hypoglycemia. In fact, the effects of exercise on diabetics are highly beneficial and can cause a noticeable improvement in your health.

What happens to your body when exercising?

One of the first things that happen to your body when exercising is that it heats up. This happens because your body is burning fats and calories to provide your muscles with energy. Your blood will start to flow quicker, and this will help to strengthen your heart. It also improves your brain functioning, as blood and oxygen will reach your brain faster. 

When you exercise, your body also releases endorphins that make you feel good. This lowers your stress levels, which is important if you suffer from diabetes.

What are the benefits of exercise for diabetics?

In this case, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Some of the benefits of exercise include:

  • It lowers your risk for any form of heart disease. This is important as diabetes and heart disease are very often linked to one another. 
  • Circulation is improved. 
  • Blood sugar is lowered.
  • It helps you to lose bodyweight.
  • It improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin which works against the effects of insulin resistance. 
  • Reduces harmful cholesterol in your body.
  • Reduces anxiety and stress. 
  • Strengthens the immune system. 

These benefits are highly significant since things like high cholesterol, a high amount of body fat, a weak immune system, and a stressful lifestyle increase your chances of getting diabetes and can contribute to the symptoms of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Exercise can counteract these risk factors and significantly improve your health. 

What kind of exercise is best?

The two most common and helpful forms of exercise for those with diabetes include aerobic exercises and strength training exercises. 

Aerobic exercise refers to any kind of exercise that gets your heart pumping and increases your respiratory rate. This improves your blood flow, circulation and decreases the risks of heart disease. Examples include:

  • Cycling
  • Jogging
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Ball sports like tennis, soccer, basketball, etc. 
  • Walking or brisk-walking

Strength training will help you to build and strengthen your muscles. Coupled with aerobic exercises, which burn fat, your body will be able to control your blood sugar levels much better. This is because your muscles use glucose for energy. Popular types of strength training include weight lifting, agile strength training, and speed-strength training (such as sprinting). 

How often should you exercise?

Most doctors usually recommend that patients with diabetes should exercise for thirty minutes a day, five days a week. However, this should be seen as a goal if you are a beginner. Start slowly with a couple of minutes a day and work your way toward thirty minutes. Once you have reached that mark and feel comfortable, you can gradually increase the amount of time.

Which precautions should you take?

Even though exercise has countless health benefits for diabetics, it is still important to proceed with caution and to make sure that you take the necessary precautions before starting out. As a diabetic, you may suffer from other resulting conditions such as neuropathy or swollen feet and ankles. Exercise can also cause a dramatic drop in your blood sugar (especially if you take insulin) and this could lead to hypoglycemia. For these reasons, it is important to take these precautions. 

First and foremost, you should always discuss this with your doctor. They will be able to tell you exactly which kinds of exercise would be suitable for your body, when you should exercise, and how often you should be exercising. 

If your doctor has provided you with a suitable exercise plan, there are a few other things to keep in mind. Before exercising, you should always test your blood sugar. Your blood sugar level should be above 100mg/dL before exercising to reduce the risk of hypoglycemia.

Doctors also suggest that diabetics should exercise at a certain time of day. Any time between and one and three hours after a meal is ideal. This is usually when your blood glucose levels are the highest. With that being said, you should never exercise if your glucose levels are too high. Because there are possible risks involved, it is also important to wear a medical alert bracelet when exercising. 

Beginning an exercise routine is difficult for many people, and can be even more so for someone with diabetes. However, even though there are risks involved, following an appropriate exercise plan from your doctor and being careful reduces the chances of these risks. The effects of exercise on your health can be life-changing. It is never too late to start.