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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:
If you take insulin, do not inject insulin near the primary muscles that will be used during exercise (typically the thighs or back of the arms), because it will be absorbed too quickly.
Check your blood glucose level before you exercise. SparkPeople's Carbohydrate Adjustments for Exercising Diabetics Chart will tell you what adjustments to make before exercise, based on your glucose reading.
Do not skip planned meals prior to exercise, or go too long without eating.
Carry an easy-to-consume glucose source (such as juice, hard candy, or glucose tablets) when you exercise
Drink plenty of water before and during exercise—dehydration can affect glucose levels.
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.
Do NOT exercise if your blood glucose is above 300 mg/dL, or your fasting blood glucose is above 250 mg/dL and you have ketones in your urine.
Check your glucose level before and after exercise, to see how your exercise has affected it. Share this information with your doctor (especially if you take any oral medications for diabetes or insulin) to help you determine the best times of day for you to exercise, and how to adjust the timing or amount of your dosage before exercising.