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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Diabetes and Exercise
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Diabetes and Exercise

Alternate Names : Exercise for People Who Have Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus, also called DM, is a condition that makes it hard for the body to control the level of glucose in the blood. Glucose is the main form of sugar the body uses. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. It helps the body control the level of glucose in the blood.

When glucose builds up in the blood, the result is a high blood glucose level, called hyperglycemia. There are a number of ways to lower the blood glucose level. These include a correct diet for diabetes, medicine, and exercise. Exercise is a natural way a person with diabetes can help control his or her blood glucose levels. Muscles use more glucose during exercise.

What is the information for this topic?

The two most common types of diabetes mellitus are called type 1 and type 2. People with either of these types of diabetes benefit from regular exercise. Almost all people who develop type 2 diabetes have a condition called pre-diabetes first. This condition used to be known as impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates that almost 16 million people over the age of 40 have this condition. It occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than healthy levels but too low to be called diabetes. Without lifestyle changes, most people who have prediabetes will progress to type 2 diabetes within 10 years.

Benefits of exercise

There is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. But it may be possible to prevent type 2 diabetes in many cases! This is especially true once pre-diabetes is known. Even modest lifestyle changes can help prevent the onset of diabetes. The key is to:

  • eat a healthy diet
  • exercise regularly
  • maintain a healthy body weight
  • Exercise is a vital part of diabetes treatment. It can lower the level of glucose in the blood and may also:

  • help the body make better use of its food supply
  • allow the body cells to better use insulin and glucose
  • aid a person in losing excess weight
  • improve blood circulation throughout the body
  • increase the heart's ability to pump blood
  • lower high blood pressure
  • help a person feel better physically and mentally
  • A recent study showed that walking briskly for only 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week greatly reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.

    Evaluation before starting an exercise program

    It is important for a person who has diabetes to visit the doctor before starting an exercise program. The doctor can help design an exercise program that is right for the person. He or she will take many factors into account, including the person's:

  • need for activity
  • physical abilities and limits
  • blood glucose control
  • medicine routine
  • coronary risk factors, including smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure
  • The ADA states that a graded exercise test may help if a person is at high risk for heart disease. He or she can build up to a moderate- to high-intensity exercise program. Those at high risk include people who:

  • are 35 years of age or older
  • have had type 2 diabetes more than 10 years
  • have had type 1 diabetes more than 15 years
  • have other coronary risk factors, including high blood pressure
  • have significant diabetic nephropathy, or kidney damage from diabetes
  • have significant retinopathy, or retinal damage in the eye
  • have peripheral vascular disease, or impaired circulation in the legs and arms
  • have autonomic neuropathy, or damage to the part of the nervous system that controls blood pressure
  • Guidelines for exercise

    The ADA stresses the importance of regulating the body's glucose levels in response to exercise. It has issued these exercise guidelines for people who have diabetes:

  • Monitor blood glucose levels before and after exercise. Each person should talk with the doctor about what his or her healthy range is. Find out if there is ever any time that exercise should be avoided because of the blood glucose level.
  • Include warm-up and cooldown periods in the exercise program. The warm-up should include 5 to 10 minutes of aerobic activity such as low-intensity walking. Follow this with 5 to 10 minutes of gentle muscle stretching. The cooldown after exercise should last about 5 to 10 minutes. It should slowly bring the pulse down to the level it was before exercise.
  • Because people who have diabetes often also have poor circulation in their feet, good shoes are important. The ADA recommends the use of silica gel or air midsoles in athletic shoes. Polyester or polyester and cotton socks help prevent blisters and keep the feet dry.

    People who have diabetes should tell those exercising with them that they have diabetes. They should also tell them what to do if they become weak. A bracelet or shoe tag showing the person's diabetes should be clearly visible. People who exercise alone should tell others where they are going and when they will be back.

    Author: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Reviewer: Kathleen A. MacNaughton, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 06/22/02

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