If you have diabetes, take note. Exercise is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. That’s because physical activity helps your body more effectively use your blood sugar – not just during your workout, but for several hours after.
Blood sugar (or glucose) is a fuel that the body uses for activity. When your muscles work hard, they call upon the glucose in your blood for energy. This happens during and after exercise. How hard you exercise and how long you exercise affects the amount of glucose in your system. Exercise encourages the body to transfer sugar to where it’s supposed to go – your cells – rather than lingering in the blood. In overweight people, exercise may help the body learn to reverse some of its resistance to insulin, meaning cells are better able to recognize and use insulin.
But exercise alone does not do the trick. Glucose needs insulin, which helps unlock the doors to the cells so that the sugar can enter and be used for energy. If you don’t have enough insulin available, your blood sugar levels may actually increase after exercise. Remember, your body is suddenly working harder and is pouring sugar into the bloodstream to keep up with the demand. If not enough insulin is available to unlock the doors to the cells, then the sugar can back up into your bloodstream.
If your diabetes is well controlled, you shouldn’t have problems with exercising. Exercise helps you maintain good blood sugar numbers on a regular basis.
Another benefit of exercise is that it can help reduce your chances for developing heart disease. People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing heart and blood vessel problems because of the excess glucose in their bodies. Over the years, this extra sugar in the blood causes a great deal of damage. Exercise helps keep blood vessels clear and strong.
Follow these tips when exercising:
- Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve been active.
- Monitor your blood glucose before, during and after exercise. Check it 30 minutes before beginning and then again immediately before beginning. Ask your doctor what is a safe level for you. If your reading is too high, don’t work out – exercise can endanger you. If it’s too low, eat a high carbohydrate food before you work out. Check with your doctor about how long you should wait to exercise after giving yourself insulin.
- Test your blood sugar during and after exercise. Have water and snacks nearby. If you notice low blood sugar symptoms, such as confusion, nervousness or shaking, stop exercising and monitor your glucose. If your reading is 70 or lower, take two to five glucose tablets, a half cup of fruit juice or a half cup of regular soda. Wait 15 minutes and check your sugar level again. If it is still low, repeat the previous steps.
- Exercise at the same time every day. This will help you plan your insulin needs and keep better control over your blood sugar levels.