Don't Let Diabetes Stop You From Exercising

Tips from UPMC Health Plan

Husband and wife riding bikes.As John waits in his car to pick up his daughter, he watches — not entirely without envy — as two runners circle the high school track. “I used to be able to run like that,” he thinks. “But those days are behind me now.” John was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes three years earlier and gave up exercising. He still manages to walk with his wife every now and then, but John has convinced himself that any kind of serious exercise, like running or lifting weights, is out of the question.

What John doesn’t know is that for people with type 2 diabetes, exercise can be — and should be — a daily part of life. With a little bit of time and dedication, John could be running around the track while he waits for his daughter, instead of sitting in his car.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you have diabetes or another chronic health condition and are thinking about starting an exercise program, the first step should always be to talk to your doctor. Discuss what activities are safe for you. Your doctor’s advice will depend on the condition of your heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, feet, and nervous system.

Start Slowly

Based on that advice, plan what you’d like to do. Be realistic and start slowly. Challenge yourself, but keep your exercise at a level that is enjoyable and something you look forward to.

Learn When It’s OK to Exercise

Check your blood sugar before and after exercising to learn your body’s response to exercise. Checking your blood sugar in this way can show you the benefits of activity. You also can use the results of your blood sugar checks to prevent it from going too low or too high. For example, if your blood sugar is high (above 300) before you exercise, physical activity can make it go even higher. In that case, you need to be cautious about doing something active.

Know Your Body’s Low Blood Sugar Symptoms

Low blood sugar is called hypoglycemia. Symptoms include nervousness, sweating, intense hunger, trembling, weakness, palpitations, and trouble speaking. Low blood sugar can be brought on by physical activity. If you find that low blood glucose interferes with your exercise, have a snack before you exercise or adjust your medication. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you. If you are in the middle of exercising and your blood sugar becomes low, drink juice or chew glucose tablets. You also can drink a half-can of regular soft drink to raise your blood glucose. It’s a good idea to always have water, snacks, and juice on hand.

Wear Medical Identification

For your safety, always wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace, or a medical ID tag, so people know you have diabetes. Finally, keep track of your progress. It can be very motivating to see where you were when you started on your exercise journey. When you compare that with where you are in a month, three months, and then six months, you will be impressed with how far you’ve come.

For more health tips, visit UPMC Health Plan.

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