You doctor probably told you that diet and exercise is the best way to lower your blood sugar. That is good advice. As the reverse diabetes coach, I talk a lot about a healthy diet with my clients with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes as well as exercise. I wasn’t surprised recently to see a client’s blood sugar drop after she swam laps for 30 minutes. If you’re using a glucometer, you should see a drop in your blood sugar after you exercise.
Because type 2 diabetes is a complex disease, which puts individuals at risk of heart disease and obesity, it’s best to have a conversation with your physician before exercising. Also, if you are already seeing a physical therapist or chiropractor to rehabilitate a current injury, you want to ask whether you’re ready to exercise and what types of exercise or movements won’t aggravate your injury.
For example, neither my client nor I realized that swimming, a low impact exercise, would aggravate her hip injury but doing mainly the breast-stroke with the frog kick did. She was in pain for a few days afterwards. We’ve since talked about alternatives like the back stroke and walking that won’t aggravate her hip injury.
Here are 5 steps to jumpstart your exercise journey.
Step 1) Moderate exercise is best
When you exercise moderately like walking, your heart beasts a little faster and you breathe a little harder. Your muscles use more sugar in your blood stream, which 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.
But remember to not 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) Choose activities you enjoy
Working out at a gym is not for everyone including myself at this stage in life. Don’t get me wrong, if you have a gym membership and are using it, that’s fine. But, many people sign up for expensive gym memberships and never use them. But, even if you don’t like using machines or weights, some gyms offer fun classes you may like. I used to take dance and yoga classes at the gym I belonged to and really enjoyed them. The Latin dance class was so much fun, that it never really felt like exercise although we definitely worked up a sweat!.
I have since given up my gym membership but joined several exercise groups through meetup.com, including tennis, cycling and hiking in my local area. If you want to want to exercise with others, meet-up groups are a great option and typically are free or have a minimal administrative fee.
Walking is one of the easiest, no-frills options available. I walk typically twice a day for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Fortunately, my neighborhood has a lot of sidewalks, which makes walking safer. But, I also live near a bike/walking trail and use that often. Another option is to walk on a running track at a school or an indoor mall.
The bottom-line is to choose something you enjoy so you stick with it. It may be something more exotic like belly-dancing (tried that once), skateboarding or water aerobics.
Another important concept is to start out slowly especially if you have an injury or have not exercised in quite a while. You want to have a positive experience so I recommend starting with low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, yoga or Pilates, and brief strength training and toning exercises. You can always increase the intensity (i.e. power walking/jogging), duration (double or triple the time), and frequency (repetitions).
Step 3) Create a plan
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 5 30 minute aerobic sessions per week along with 2 strength training sessions. I have found a combination of aerobic exercise along with toning and stretching works best. As I get older (yes, I am middle-aged) I need to spend more time stretching in the morning and use an exercise ball to do a series of warm-up exercises that combine stretching with some Pilates and yoga moves. Stretching is essential if you exercise regularly to prevent strained or sprained muscles. I recommend stretching for at least 10 minutes before you exercise as well as after you exercise. This is particularly important if you run or play tennis on concrete surfaces.
Developing muscle tone is also important (no-one wants to look flabby, right?) You can tone with brief exercises that shape and strengthen your muscles. To jumpstart your muscle-toning, I recommend Lani Muelrath’s Fitness Quickies which are great for busy people because each of the 10 video/audio exercises are 7 minutes or less. You can do them at home too. Click here to view more details.
Step 4) Schedule your exercise
Starting any new activity involves planning. Once you’ve decide which type of exercise you want to do, you need figure how to fit the activity into your schedule so it becomes routine. For example, if you decide to take a class, you need to figure out whether you can commit the amount of time required to get to the class and participate in the class regularly. If you work long hours or commute a distance, you may want to find a gym that is open several hours before and after your work hours.
Many companies now subsidize gym memberships to offset health care costs. I used to commute an hour to work and to beat traffic, would leave by 5:30 am and work out at the company subsidized gym until 8 am and then eat breakfast in the company cafeteria. It was a great way to start the day!
It’s important to treat exercise just like any other appointment on your calendar. For example, I put all my tennis and hike dates on my Outlook calendar so I see them there along with work activities and they become part of my weekly schedule.
Step 5) Get Ready and Go!
- Having the right equipment and clothes will make a big difference in your experience. If you’re walking, jogging or playing tennis, 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, you may want to eat a snack first such as an apple or a graham cracker. When in doubt, check with your doctor.
- Record your exercise and your blood sugar in a log afterwards so you can see the impact.
- Carry a snack or herbal lozenges like Ricola with you 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.
Let me know how your exercise plan goes in the comment box.
In good health!