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Exercising with Type 2 Diabetes

Manage Glucose, Lose Weight, and Reduce Complications
  -- By Dean Anderson, Fitness & Behavior Expert
If your doctor has diagnosed you with Type 2 diabetes, then she has probably already told you about the importance of adding exercise to your treatment plan. Physical activity can help you improve your blood sugar control, lose weight, and reduce your risk of heart disease, peripheral artery disease and nerve problems that are often associated with diabetes. In many cases, the right combination of diet and exercise can even help eliminate the need for medication for people with Type 2 diabetes.

But before you get started, you need to understand how exercise influences blood glucose regulation, and how to avoid potential problems, minimize risks, and recognize when you may need to get additional information or support from your health care provider. *The general information in this article is not a substitute for talking to your health care provider before you begin an exercise program, or if you experience any problems in connection with your exercise.

How Exercise Benefits People with Type 2 Diabetes

In addition to boosting your energy levels, mood, and capacity to burn calories for weight loss, regular exercise can lead to the following benefits:
The Best Exercises for People with Type 2 Diabetes

Always discuss your exercise plan with your doctor before starting, especially if you’re taking medication or experiencing diabetes-related medical complications (discussed above and below).

Experts generally recommend that people with diabetes engage in moderate aerobic (cardio) exercise that lasts at least 30 minutes, on four or more days of the week. In addition, moderate strength training (except as noted below) and flexibility exercises are also highly beneficial. These exercises will help you better use your muscles without soreness and decrease your risk of injury.

The Risks of Exercise and How to Avoid Them

Many people with diabetes have special needs that should be addressed  when planning an exercise program. Here are four of the most common problems that will affect your exercise plan:

1. Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar): Exercise can cause your blood glucose levels to drop too much, especially if you take insulin or some other glucose-lowering medications. Symptoms of hypoglycemia, or "low blood sugar," include feeling shaky, lightheaded, weak, confused, anxious, fatigued, irritable, or hungry; headache; breaking out into a clammy sweat; or even fainting.

Hypoglycemia can happen during exercise, right after exercise, or even up to 24 hours after you finish exercising. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can be mild and gradual; but it is more common for symptoms to occur quickly with diabetes-related hypoglycemia. It is also important to note, that in rare cases, individuals may not experience any symptoms at all. By paying close attention to how you’re feeling, and by knowing how to treat low blood sugar symptoms correctly, you can prevent problems before they put you at risk of injury. To prevent exercise-related hypoglycemia: 2. Poor Blood Sugar Control: In some cases, exercise can also cause blood sugar levels to rise (known as hyperglycemia). If you take insulin, or if your glucose levels aren’t well-controlled, you must discuss your exercise plan with your doctor before starting. To prevent exercise-related blood sugar problems: 3. Diabetic Retinopathy: If you have this condition (damaged blood vessels in the retina of the eye), exercise could damage your eyesight. Strenuous activities could lead to bleeding or retinal detachment, so you may need to avoid certain activities, such as weight lifting or jogging. Ask your doctor to recommend appropriate exercise activities for you.

4. Reduced Sensation or Pain in Extremities: Because diabetes can cause nerve damage as well as interfere with blood circulation, many people with diabetes can lose all or part of the sensation in their feet. To prevent exercise-related foot problems: If you experience pain in your legs (or other extremities) at anytime during or after your exercise routine, contact your doctor right away. Exercise-induced pain can be a symptom of one or more diabetes-related complications that require medical attention. If numbness or pain becomes constant or severe, talk to your doctor about alternate forms of exercise that may be appropriate.

Exercise Checklist for People with Type 2 Diabetes

There’s no doubt about it—consistent, moderate exercise is one of the most important and effective weapons you can use to help manage your diabetes and your weight. To keep yourself safe, follow this checklist: Sources of information contained in this article included:
For more specific information or help, talk to your health care provider. The American Diabetes Association's National Call Center also offers live advice from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday at 1-800-DIABETES or 1-800-342-2383.
This article has been reviewed by Registered Dietitian, Becky Hand, and Amy Poetker, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator.