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Diabetes and exercise

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Your health care provider should make sure your exercise program is safe for you.

Call your doctor if you feel faint, have chest pain, or feel short of breath when you exercise.

Call your doctor if your feet feel numb or painful. Also call if you have sores or blisters on your feet.

Make sure you call your doctor if your blood sugar gets too low or too high during the day.

If you take medicines that lower your blood sugar, exercise can make your blood sugar go too low. Talk to your doctor or nurse about how to take your medicines when you exercise.

Some types of exercise can make your eyes worse if you already have diabetic eye disease. Get an eye exam before starting an exercise program. This can make sure your exercise program will be safe for you.

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  • Getting Started

    Start slowly with walking. If you are out of shape, walk for 5 - 10 minutes.

    Try to set a goal of fast walking. You should do this for 30 - 45 minutes at least 5 days a week. Do more if you can. Swimming or exercise classes are also good.

    Wear a bracelet or necklace that says you have diabetes. Tell coaches and exercise partners that you have diabetes. Always have fast-acting carbs with you. Carry emergency phone numbers with you.

    Drink plenty of water. Do this before, during, and after exercising. Try to exercise at the same time of day, for the same amount of time, and at the same level. This will make your blood sugars easier to control.

  • Your Blood Sugar and Exercise

    When you exercise, check your blood sugar before exercise. Also check it during exercise, if you are exercising for longer than 45 minutes.

    Finally, make sure to check it right after exercise, and later on. Exercise can make your blood sugar drop up to 12 hours after you are done.

    If you use insulin, ask your doctor when you should eat before you exercise. Also find out how to adjust your dose when you exercise.

    Do NOT inject insulin in a part of your body that you are exercising.

    Keep a snack nearby that can raise your blood sugar quickly. Examples are:

    • 5 or 6 small hard candies
    • 1 tablespoon sugar, plain or dissolved in water
    • 1 tablespoon honey or syrup
    • 3 or 4 glucose tablets
    • 1/2 can regular, non-diet soda
    • 1/2 cup fruit juice

    Have a larger snack if you will be exercising more than usual. You can also have more frequent snacks. You may need to adjust your medicine if you are planning unusual exercise.

    If exercise causes a lot of low blood sugars, talk with your doctor. You may need to lower the dose of your medicine.

  • Your Feet and Exercise

    You might not feel pain in your feet because of your diabetes. You may not notice a sore or blister on your foot. Call your doctor for any changes on your feet. Small problems can become serious if they go untreated.

    Always check your feet for any problems before and after exercise.

    When you exercise wear socks that keep moisture away from your feet. Also wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes.

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References

American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes -- 2012. Diabetes Care. 2012 Jan;35 Suppl 1:S11-63.

In the clinic. Type 2 diabetes. Ann Intern Med. 2010 Mar 2;152(1):ITC1-16.

Inzucchi SE, Sherwin RS. Type 1 diabetes mellitus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011: chap 236.

Inzucchi SE, Sherwin RS. Type 2 diabetes mellitus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011: chap 237. 

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Review Date: 9/4/2012  

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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