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Step 7: Exercise
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You don’t have to find hours each day to work out in a gym to enjoy the huge benefits of exercise. Dance, walk, swim, garden, play ball, have fun. Gradually work up to at least 30 minutes, 5 days each week. Even that little amount of exercise can catapult your health forward -- even if the exercise is divided into shorter blocks of time (15 minutes twice a day can be great).

Exercise has great health benefits. You probably know that exercise burns calories, which helps you lose weight. You may also know that exercise improves your cholesterol level and lowers your blood pressure. Together, this helps maintain the health of your heart and blood vessels.

Exercise also makes your muscle cells more sensitive to insulin, meaning that sugar from your blood is able to enter muscle cells. If you have type 2 diabetes, this accomplishes two important goals:

  • Helps to control your blood sugar levels
  • Provides the energy your muscles need to work throughout the day

You may find that with a healthy diet and sufficient exercise, you can keep your blood sugar in the normal non-diabetic range without medication.

To improve blood sugar control, achieve a healthy weight, and reduce the risks of heart disease and strokes, you need at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-intense aerobic activity (with your heart rate at 50 - 85% of maximum for your age), OR at least 90 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise (with your heart rate at less than 85% of maximumfor your age).

In addition, you should add resistance training to your routine, unless there is a medical reason to avoid it. The ideal is 3 times a week, targeting all major muscle groups, trying to work up to 3 sets of 8 - 10 repetitions each, using a weight that cannot be easily lifted more than 8 - 10 times

If exercise is new for you or you've been inactive for a while, check with your doctor to be sure that it is safe for you to start. A stress test, eye exam, and complete neurologic exam may be performed to assess your risk for complications related to diabetes. Once you are given the go-ahead, follow these general guidelines:

  • Choose activities that you enjoy, so that you will stick with them. Vary the activity when it feels like time for something new.
  • Include 5-minute warm-up and cool-down periods.
  • Start slowly and listen to your body.
  • Be aware that exercise can cause your blood sugar to drop too low if you are taking certain medications or insulin.
  • Check your blood sugar before and after exercise to learn how exercise affects your body.
  • As a general rule, you should not exercise if your blood sugar is over 300 or below 100 mg/dl.
  • Wear proper footwear.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Wear a visible I.D. bracelet or other diabetes identifier.
  • Have sugar-containing foods readily available during and after exercise in case your blood sugar drops.
  • Avoid injecting insulin (if you use it) near muscles that you use while working out. This can affect the absorption of the insulin, and your body may react differently to the insulin.
  • Avoid strength training and high-impact exercises if you have a diabetic eye disorder called retinopathy.
  • Ask your doctor about any other exercise restrictions that are specific to you.

The effects of exercise on blood sugar levels can last up to 24 hours. By recording exercise information in your blood sugar log (including types of activities, time of day, and length of workout), you can see patterns that develop and learn to be safe.


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Review Date: 7/8/2012
Reviewed By: Nancy J. Rennert, MD, Chief of Endocrinology & Diabetes, Norwalk Hospital, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Previoulsy reviewed by Ari S. Eckman, MD, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. (5/13/2010)
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