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How people with diabetes can make time for exercise

Here's why exercise is so important for people with diabetes, and how to fit it into your daily routine.

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Finding ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine is incredibly important if you have diabetes. 

Not only does it help with lowering blood sugar and increasing insulin sensitivity, but it helps maintain weight and improve mental and physical health.

But for many, it’s not easy finding ways to fit exercise time into their daily routines. 

This is particularly true if you work full-time, have kids, or other family obligations. 

In this article we’ll look at why exercise is so important for people with diabetes, and the easiest ways to fit it into your day.

Why is exercise so important for people with diabetes?

It’s no secret that exercise is important for everyone, particularly those with desk jobs. 

But it’s especially important for people with diabetes; arguably as important as proper diet and exercise.

The American Diabetes Association currently recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, 5 days a week.

To get the most benefit from exercise, it needs to increase your heart rate. 

This guarantees that your body is actually working during the exercise routine, and also means you’re burning calories. 

Of course, the intensity of exercise will be different depending on your current fitness level, but be sure not to overexert yourself during the early stages. 

This helps you avoid soreness and muscle fatigue early on.

But why is exercise so important for people with diabetes? 

There are serveral benefits to adding extra activity to your day. 

  • More energy throughout the day
  • Better and more restful sleep
  • Loss of fat and gain in muscle
  • Lower blood sugar levels
  • Improved immune health
  • Increased sensitivity to insulin
  • Better heart health 
  • Lower blood pressure

These are only some of the most applicable benefits for people with diabetes, but the list goes on. 

To get the most from your exercise routine, you should vary between aerobic exercise and strength training.

Aerobic exercise is things like running or walking, which increase your heart rate. 

Strength training is generally more static, and includes things like push-ups, weight and resistance band training. 

For the best results, you should incorporate both into your routine.

How does exercise help to lower blood sugar?

Using exercise to lower your blood sugar levels doesn’t always yield immediate results. 

While you will notice changes after your first workout session, long-term benefits take a while to build.

During exercise, your muscles work harder than at rest. 

This process uses the glucose found in your blood (your blood sugar). 

It also increases your body’s sensitivity to insulin, as the two things go hand-in-hand. 

Lower blood sugar levels will last for hours after exercise because your body uses the energy to repair itself; this is true for both aerobic exercise and strength training. 

Over time, your body will adjust to the exercise and you should find your blood sugar levels become slightly lower than before.

How does exercise help people with diabetes?

Other than improving overall health, exercise can help manage diabetes as a condition

For example, increasing your body’s insulin sensitivity helps to combat insulin resistance, which is much more common in older adults.

Similarly, aerobic exercise helps to reduce obesity, which is not only a contributing factor to type 2 diabetes.

Obesity can release fat cells into your bloodstream, which can affect your body’s insulin sensitivity. 

So, by exercising, you reduce the risk of this happening.

Then there’s the benefits to your heart health. 

People with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease because consistently high blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels. 

High blood sugar also means you’re more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can cause other potential complications. 

Making your heart work harder than a resting pace is perfect for improving its health. 

Exercise strengthens your heart and helps to repair it. It also helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, which will help you to maintain heart health in the long term.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why exercise is beneficial for people with diabetes. But fitting it into your day can be difficult without proper planning.

Tips for fitting exercise into your day

1. The best time for people with diabetes to exercise is 1-3 hours after eating to ensure your blood sugar levels are higher. This reduces the chances of hypoglycemia during or after exercise.

Be sure to test your blood sugar levels before and after exercising. If they’re low, eat a piece of fruit and wait 30 minutes.

2. Decide which exercises will be most fun for you. Enjoying it really boosts motivation, and this makes a huge difference in your mindset. 

3. Make time in your calendar for exercise and then build the rest of your day around it. This might not always be possible, but putting exercise at such a high priority will teach your brain that it’s important.

4. Remeber that it’s a small sliver of your day. The 30 minutes you take to move will pay off in the end. And it’s only 30 minutes – the length of a TV show.

5. 30 minutes of yoga in the morning or late evening is surprisingly good as exercise. It’s more strength training than aerobic exercise, but it’s better than nothing.

6. Walk (or run) wherever possible. If you have errands to run, then literally run them. 

Taking the kids to daycare? Pop them in the stroller and jog if you can. Need to go to the store? At the very least walk at a brisk pace, but consider running.

7. Acknowledge that a positive mindset is important. You need to see exercise as fun; this will really boost motivation. 

8. You don’t have to go to a gym – you can do it all at home. 

Buy some resistance bands and dumbbells and you’ve got everything you need. I’m personally a fan of my Peloton, and the workouts and achievement badges motivate me to keep going.  

There are plenty of exercise plans online perfectly suited to this situation, so don’t see this as a barrier.

9. Make it a family affair. You don’t have to exercise alone, doing it with a spouse, partner, or your kids can save some time in your schedule, and give you some accountability. 

Exercise doesn’t need to be a chore 

If you have diabetes, it should become an important part of your daily routine. 

Other than the long-term benefits of lowering blood sugar levels and increasing insulin sensitivity, it’ll have a big boost to your mental health too. 

Don’t be afraid to start small and work up to something bigger; we all have to start somewhere!

About Mila

Hi! I'm Mila.

I’m earning my Master’s degree in Applied nutrition.

I’m a journalist and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach living with  LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults, a slow-progressing form of autoimmune Type 1 diabetes) I love food, travel, and my kitchen, and teaching you about diabetes self-management.

I’m here to help you live your best life possible diabetes by showing you how to create simple, blood-sugar friendly and delicious meals and tips on diabetes self-care.

Be sure to download my FREE Diabetes Community App Glucose Guide, or reach out for FREE 1:1 diabetes health and habit coaching.

How can I help with your diabetes management?

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