exercise for diabetes

How and when to exercise for diabetes

One Australian is diagnosed with diabetes every five minutes. That’s a staggering statistic that has a huge impact on our community and the healthcare system. We all know it’s important to lead a healthy lifestyle by practicing nutritious eating and exercising, but what do you need to consider if you have diabetes? Where do you start? Who should you go see? What if you’ve never exercised before? Never fear, your Accredited Exercise Physiologist is here!

Exercise can help to manage diabetes 

Current research shows that exercise is more important than ever for individuals with diabetes. Exercise improves cardiorespiratory fitness and strength, which helps insulin work more effectively. Regular exercise also has positive effects on mood, mental health and brain function.

What type of exercise is best?

There are many different forms of exercise, but what type is right for you? Every individual is different! It’s important to remember that although a combination of aerobic and resistance have the best overall effect, there may be modifications to each individual.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise is described as continual movement to assist in the improvement of cardiorespiratory function. This includes walking, cycling, swimming or even dancing! For individuals with diabetes, it is recommended to perform aerobic exercise on most days of the week, aiming for 30 minutes each session.

You could try exercising on your own or in a group situation. Research has shown that when you exercise in group, motivation to continue long term is greater. It’s also a great mood enhancer to see your friends and/or family frequently.
Remember, you’re just starting out, you may only be able to manage 10 minutes. Aim to gradually progress over a few weeks to reach the goal of 30 minutes continuously.

Resistance Exercise

Maintaining strength is not only important to keep our muscles healthy, it also helps with performing daily activities and has an important role in maintaining balance.

Resistance exercises can be performed using your body weight, light hand weights or resistance bands, various machines and free weights found in a gym setting or even using common household items like cans of food. Moving your muscle under a greater resistance promotes an increase in muscle mass and therefore great glucose uptake.

For people with diabetes, it is recommended to participate in resistance training 2-3 x per week with a range of large, functional muscle groups being used.

Be sure to ask your Accredited Exercise Physiologist what type of resistance training is right for you.

diabetes resistance exercise

When is the best time to exercise?

The type of diabetes you have and the medication you may be using should be a consideration when deciding on the best time to exercise.

If you’re taking insulin, it’s important to avoid exercise during peak insulin action as this could result in unwanted “lows”. It is also recommended to avoid exercise close to sleeping.

When you eat, your blood glucose levels go up. But remember, research has shown that if you exercise for 10 minutes immediately after eating, your blood glucose levels could be up to 5mmol/L lower than if you just sat on the couch watching TV. This is because exercise has a lasting effect; glucose continues to be removed from the blood stream by the muscles themselves (from being active) but also, ongoing training has shown to improve insulin sensitivity.

Remember to see your doctor or health care professional prior to commencing a new program to ensure your safety. As with all exercise, it’s important to avoid training if you’re unwell or if the weather is extremely hot. Be sure to start at a light intensity and gradually progress with the help of your health professional.

Get the right support 

Whether you’re currently inactive, at risk of diabetes or have been diagnosed with diabetes, exercise can help. But it’s important to get the right advice.

Exercise physiologists are specially trained to understand the complexities of this condition and can help you to exercise safely with diabetes.

To find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist near you, click here.

Read more

Check out the resources and latest information on the Diabetes Australia website.

Download the Exercise and Diabetes factsheet by Exercise is Medicine Australia.

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Written by Elise Hoyer. Elise is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at BallyCara.