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Virtually all individuals who have diabetes can benefit from regular exercise. In both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, exercise can increase insulin sensitivity, lower blood glucose, and have positive psychological effects on an individual.  With regular exercise, overall well-being improves, cardiovascular risk factors are reduced, and hyperglycemia is better controlled.

Getting Started

Before beginning an exercise program, it is important for an individual with diabetes to consult with his or her doctor.  The doctor can assess the state of the patient's overall health and decide whether there are existing diabetes-related situations or complications like heart disease.

The best type of exercise is aerobic exercise.  Aerobic exercise is usually continuous and uses large amounts of energy.  Examples include: walking, running, bicycling, and swimming.  These forms of exercise are more likely to help control blood glucose than exercise activities that only require short bursts of energy, like team sports.

Walking is excellent exercise and is easy to do.  It is best to start out slowly with short distances and then gradually increase speed and distance.  Any exercise should be done regularly, at least 3-4 times per week.  A regular schedule is important because it makes it easier to plan for any changes in diabetic therapy due to exercise.

For individuals with Type 1 diabetes, exercise is usually balanced with a meal plan and insulin to control the diabetes. Changes may be necessary to insulin and/or food intake before and after exercise to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood glucose).

Exercise helps those with Type 2 diabetes by increasing the sensitivity of cells to insulin.  The increase in sensitivity increases insulin effectiveness and improves blood glucose levels.

Risk Management

diabetes and its related complications can make some types of exercise inadvisable or potentially dangerous.  Therefore, careful attention must be paid to blood glucose monitoring, diet, insulin, and medication in order to exercise safely.  It is recommended by the ADA that patients monitor their blood glucose before and after exercise and for those with Type 1 diabetes, every 20 to 30 minutes.

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Personal Health Check-up
  By Nicole Johnson, MA, MPH