There are many reasons to exercise, but for diabetics and those who have pre-diabetes, it’s particularly important. In the simplest terms, the best exercise for a diabetic is the one you’ll enjoy and commit to doing with consistency.
When you have diabetes, low-impact exercise is one of the most accessible ways you can optimize your health and keep your blood sugar levels under control.
With low impact activities, you can get a terrific cardio and muscle toning workout with minimal pressure on the joints of your knees, hips and ankles. Here’s a look at some of the benefits of low impact exercise for diabetes — and what you can do to get moving.
Exercise Benefits For Diabetics
If you have diabetes, you probably know that it’s important to engage in regular physical activity. But do you know why?
Understanding the specific health benefits that can be gained from physical activity will be a real benefit as you proceed along your diabetes journey. The facts may also provide the encouragement required to stay with a physical activity program.
Facts can be powerful motivators!
Regular physical activity is recommended as a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity, plus resistance exercises three times a week.
8 Reasons Diabetics Should Exercise
Here are eight great reasons for physical activity, as reported in major studies.
1. Improved blood glucose levels – In some cases, physical activity can be as effective as glucose-lowering medications and brings fewer side effects.
2. Improved cholesterol readings – A regular program of physical activity is associated with improved lipid profiles. The lipid profile shows the ratio of ‘good’ (HDL) and ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. An improved lipid profile can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke for people with diabetes.
3. Reduced blood pressure – Regular physical activity can be an important lifestyle tool in achieving blood pressure targets.
4. Improved cardiorespiratory fitness – The cardiorespiratory fitness rating is a measure of the effectiveness of the heart, lungs and blood at transporting oxygen to the major muscles. It also shows how well the muscles use oxygen during activity. Low cardiorespiratory fitness has been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
5. Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease – When regular physical activity is part of the lifestyle, a substantial reduction in early deaths from cardiovascular disease has been reported in both men and women. The statistics hold for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
6. Improved weight maintenance – In conjunction with healthy eating, regular physical activity can help people with diabetes reach and maintain their healthy weight targets.
7. Enhanced emotional well-being – A regular program of physical activity can promote feelings of wellbeing,
8. Prevention of type 2 diabetes – This may be too late for your situation, but is something for you to keep in mind: in conjunction with healthy eating and weight control, a regular program of physical activity is reported to reduce diabetes incidence by 60%. That is an amazing statistic!
What is Low Impact Exercise?
Low impact fitness activities are those where you do not have to place one of your limbs in contact with a hard surface.
To put it simply low impact exercise is any exercise that doesn’t require you to pound your feet on the floor or punch your fists at an opponent. In low impact exercise, movements are smooth, and at least one foot is always on the ground.
Low-impact exercise minimizes the amount of stress placed upon your joints. This means it is accessible even to those with knee, hip and ankle issues.
Swimming, walking and elliptical use are all examples of low-impact exercises that can improve your cardiovascular health and muscular strength, while minimizing the pressure on your joints.
Low Impact Activities For Diabetics
The great thing about walking is that you can often do it anywhere, anytime throughout the year.
Here’s what research shows about the benefits of even light walking and standing:
For people with type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests standing and light walking may be the key to managing blood sugar levels.
Dutch researchers note exercise that is moderate to vigorous is often recommended for people with diabetes but unfortunately most patients do not follow this advice.
It has long been recommended that 150 minutes of exercise each week is an integral way to prevent (and thus treat) type 2 diabetes, but 90% of the population does not meet this threshold.
The study, published in Diabetologia, was led by Bernard Duvivier of the Department of Human Biology and Movement Science at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
The results indicate that even simply sitting less may, in fact, bring even better results than moderate to vigorous exercise.
Their findings suggests that sitting less, without the added exercise, improves insulin sensitivity.
Motivating news, indeed!
If you live where bad weather might keep you inside, I highly recommend purchasing your own high quality treadmill. I have had my treadmill for over ten years, and it has been my “no excuses exercise” every cold and rainy day! In my opinion, these machines are truly a worthwhile investment in good health.
The elliptical machine found at many gyms, allows you to accelerate your heart rate like you would when running. However, the motion is easier on your knees, hips and back than running on a treadmill.
You can also control the speed without having to push buttons.
Try the elliptical in small doses until you get used to it and don’t forget to stretch your thighs and hips after your workout.
Climbing stairs on a regular basis will improve the function and efficiency of your lungs. This will help build a strong and efficient heart to prevent cardiovascular issues down the road.
A step climber machine is a compact, efficient way to do stair climbing safely at home.
Make sure your seat is at the proper height for a more comfortable ride, and to protect your back, tuck your pelvis slightly forward when pedaling.
Because rowing engages all the major muscle groups, it’s a good way to build muscle, improve your cardiovascular fitness and keep your body weight in check. Plus, it can be done indoors via a rowing machine, or outdoors in a canoe or rowboat when weather permits.
Like rowing, kayaking engages your major muscles, especially in the upper body and core. It also gives you a low-to-the-water view that really immerses you in the experience of being in nature.
Gliding through a tranquil lake can be a great meditative process and mood booster.
Swimming and Water Aerobics
This form of activity can strengthen both the upper and lower body. Since the water’s buoyancy supports your weight, it’s also a great way to get active when you have mobility or balance issues.
Benefits of Swimming for Diabetics
If you have musculoskeletal or balance problems, foot pain from nerve damage, or other physical limitations, the swimming pool is a great place to get active. Since the water’s buoyancy supports the body’s weight, it minimizes pain.
Swimming is excellent aerobic exercise with an added benefit over walking: it exercises both the upper and lower body.
Swimming strengthens all the major muscles in the body, which is valuable in controlling diabetes. Stronger muscles become more sensitive to insulin and absorb more glucose from blood, resulting in lowering of A1c.
Swimming improves cardiovascular fitness. This is important because people with diabetes have higher risk for heart disease. Studies have shown that higher levels of cardiovascular fitness can decrease the overall risk of cardiovascular events by up to 50%.
The glucose-lowering effect of swimming (just like any aerobic exercise) can last for hours…as much as 48 hours.
It’s less stressful on the feet than many other forms of exercise. This is important because reduced blood flow in the small blood vessels of the extremities is common among those living with diabetes, making foot injuries such as cuts or blisters slow to heal and prone to infection.
The pleasure of moving freely in water helps overcome pain and other physical limitations. These pleasurable feelings alone may be enough to encourage someone to continue with the exercise program.
Socialization is an oft-forgotten, but integral benefit of swimming. Research suggests that socialization is one of the key motivators encouraging people to begin and maintain an exercise program.
Yoga and Pilates
Both the practice of yoga and pilates focus on breath, alignment, strength and flexibility.
It’s well known that regular practice of yoga and pilates can help reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being.
The TRX System, also known as Total Resistance exercises, refers to a specialized form of suspension training that utilizes equipment developed by former U.S. Navy SEAL Randy Hetrick.
TRX is a form of suspension training that uses body weight exercises to develop strength, balance, flexibility and core stability simultaneously.
It requires the use of the TRX Suspension Trainer, a performance training tool that leverages gravity and the user’s body weight to complete the exercises.
TRX’s designers claim that it draws on research from the military, pro sports, and academic institutions along with experience gathered from the TRX team, who work “with thousands of athletes, coaches, trainers, first responders, subject matter experts, professors, and service members in all branches.”
This is a full-body workout that relies on your own body weight instead of fitness machines or free weights. It can help you develop strength, flexibility, and a firmer core.
These exercises can be done on your own, or as part of a fitness class.
Given that golf is a sport that requires minimal intensity, it is very manageable for people of all fitness levels.
In addition, golf courses are often situated in some of the most picturesque outdoor spaces.
Keep in mind that courses with greater hills and longer holes will be more physically taxing.
A centuries-old Chinese martial arts practice, Tai Chi encompasses gentle movements and is often done outdoors.
This low-impact exercise has been shown to improve flexibility, mental clarity and overall well-being.
The FITT Principle
The FITT Principle (Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type) is a good framework to follow in developing an effective exercise regimen.
Frequency: Set up a regular workout plan so that it can become part of your everyday lifestyle. If you can’t be active every day, exercise at least every other day for optimal blood sugar control. Find more tips on how to make an exercise plan.
Intensity: How hard you work out will determine the benefits. Ideally, you should be exercising at a moderate to high level. Begin slowly and work your way up to a higher intensity level over time.
Time: How long you work out will depend on the type of workout and your fitness level, which should improve over time. Do at least 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise (over at least three days) and at least two sessions per week of resistance training.
Type: Doing aerobic or resistance exercises will improve blood sugar control. But doing a combination of both will have the most impact. Determine what activities you enjoy best so you’re more apt to incorporate them into your regular workout routine.
Always remember to stretch before and after exercising to avoid injuries. You can find some good warm up and cool down exercises here.
Because exercise lowers blood sugar to varying degrees, it’s a good idea to check your levels before, during and after exercising to see how your body reacts to different activities. Be sure to carry some form of fast-acting carbohydrate with you in case you have to treat low blood sugar quickly.
If you are living with type 2 diabetes and managing with nutrition and exercise alone, managing blood glucose during exercise is not very different than for individuals living without diabetes.
During mild-to-moderate exercise, elevated blood glucose concentrations fall toward normal, but do not reach hypoglycemic levels. There is no need for supplementary food intake before, during, or after exercise.
The exception is when exercise is vigorous and of long duration (e.g. more than an hour). In that case, extra food in the form of carbohydrate would be beneficial, just as it is in the person who does not have diabetes.
Metformin, does not typically cause hypoglycemia. However your physician knows your condition best. If you are not used to checking your blood glucose during exercise, make an appointment with your diabetes educator to discuss your concerns.
People with type 2 diabetes do not need to do anything to manage the short-term high blood sugar that might happen with intense exercise. Overall, the exercise will have a positive impact on blood sugar control.
People with type 1 diabetes might want to increase their insulin doses to manage the high sugars they see with intense exercise. However, this strategy can be risky: even though blood sugars may be high initially, there may be a chance of low blood sugar later on, so be sure to speak to your diabetes healthcare team before trying this.
If you do the same exercises regularly, you’ll eventually become in tune with your own blood sugar patterns and can plan accordingly.
Be sure to follow standard exercise protocol when attempting any of these: stay hydrated, do your stretches before and after, and go at your own pace.
Also, when first starting out, check your blood sugar levels before, during and after you do any low-impact exercises to see how your body responds to these activities.
As always, you should check with your diabetes healthcare team before beginning or changing a physical activity program. This is important for everyone with diabetes but is particularly important for those with type 1 diabetes, as insulin adjustments may be required.
Making exercise a regular part of your life will have a positive impact on your health—and your blood sugar levels. It’s one of the best things you can do to manage and live well with diabetes.
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