Though exercise is good for almost everyone, exercise offers considerable benefits for people living with diabetes. Diabetics, however, need to take extra care when exercising to ensure they watch their blood sugar levels and stay well hydrated. The good news is that exercise can be fun and easy once you get started.

The Benefits of Exercise

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intense exercise each week. The ADA recognizes that exercise for people with diabetes lowers the harmful LDL cholesterol and raises healthy HDL cholesterol.

Exercise also helps control weight, strengthens bones and muscles, lowers blood pressure, increases sensitivity to insulin, and reduces anxiety. It helps us sleep better, and it improves balance and flexibility. Moreover, for those wanting to think more clearly, exercise is an excellent daily practice. In short, when people exercise, they generally feel a lot better.

What Research Tells Us

Research on patients with type 2 diabetes has determined that exercise offers diabetics many benefits. Performing aerobic or resistance exercise can lower HbA1c values by 0.7 %, even for subjects in the study who took different medications or followed different diets.

Furthermore, combining aerobic exercise (such as swimming or walking) or resistance training (weights, push-ups, or squats) is equally successful in lowering glycemic levels in adults with diabetes. This combination of exercises also helps adults at risk for diabetes and other conditions that were formerly sedentary and had abdominal obesity.

A wide array of exercises can meet the health requirements of people with type-1 and type-2 diabetes. Walking just two hours per week can help adults avoid the risk of death due to heart disease, compared to those who are sedentary. According to Harvard Health, women with diabetes can cut their risk of heart disease by 40% with just 4 hours/week of moderate or vigorous exercise that includes walking. These benefits were seen even for women with ‘confounding factors,’ such as smoking, elevated body mass index (BMI), and other risk factors for heart disease.

Overweight woman doing abs

Types of Exercises for Fitness

In addition to walking, swimming, and weight training, there are plenty of exercise choices that benefit people with diabetes. Depending on age and health, people with diabetes can choose high- and low-energy exercises that can be lots of fun.

For example, diabetics can enjoy cycling, playing team sports, running (even marathons), and more. As we age, people with diabetes may choose to dance, a fun activity to do alone or with others, and dancing is also a culturally fun and diverse activity. The many genres of dance, from the waltz to the tango and various quickstep styles offer a tempo of movement that can meet everybody’s exercise needs, too. No partner? No problem; you can dance alongside your favorite stars, dance with a video, or dance by yourself. All you really need is music.

Another form of exercise, yoga, is older than any popular form of dance. This ancient practice aims to enhance your strength, balance, and flexibility through gentle, fluid movements and stretches. Yoga promotes connectedness of the mind and body and helps reduce stress and anxiety.

Like dance, the beauty of yoga is that it can be tailored to meet the needs of all age groups and fitness levels, and it can also be performed with others or alone. Elderly diabetics with mobility challenges, too, can find a practical option called chair yoga.

Senior doing chair yoga

For those who are too busy for exercise, try an option with the added benefit of shrinking your ‘to-do’ list. Take time each day to work on the household and/or yard chores. Cleaning, vacuuming, clipping, sweeping, etc. all require movement that includes stretching.

Typical indoor/outdoor daily chores might take 30-45 minutes, possibly more. You’ll typically burn 150 calories in that time, too. It doesn’t matter if you break up the chores throughout the day and/or the week; you benefit from exercise. While taking care of daily chores, you’ll also add to your strength. That’s good for muscles and bones, and it’ll feel wonderful to pull up the easy chair and admire your work.

Exercise programs specifically aimed to meet the needs of older adults

Of course, exercise is beneficial for diabetics, but did you know that structured exercise programs are Research powerful in helping folks stay healthy when compared to doctors offering their patients dietary and exercise advice? Elderly people with diabetes should talk with their healthcare provider first. Once given the okay, many older people enjoy the benefits of evidence-based falls prevention programs. These are designed to improve fitness while also helping prevent falls.

The National Council on Aging recommends many programs. Some may be available online, and most are offered at local YMCAs, parks, churches, recreation sites, and affordable housing and retirement communities. Here are three fun suggestions:

Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention features gentle, safe, and effective movements that improve balance, strength, flexibility, and even immunity. Tai Chi for Arthritis also relieves stress, promotes relaxation, and gives people opportunities for enriched social connections.

Stay Active & Independent for Life (SAIL) is designed for adults aged 65 and older. SAIL is a community-based exercise fitness class that meets for an hour three times/week. Participants perform aerobic, balance, strength training, and stretching exercises in either a seated or standing position, depending on their needs. SAIL leaders also encourage participants to integrate learned movements into their daily lives. The result is greater activity and self-sufficiency.

Enhance®Fitness (EF) includes a fall prevention aspect. EF was developed to support healthy aging, and it meets 3 times/week for one hour. Each EF class focuses on four key areas of exercise: low-impact cardiovascular, dynamic/static balance work, strength training with weights, and stretching. It’s an opportunity to socialize with others while improving your balance, functional strength, and your stamina.

senior couple doing tai chi

What is the Best Time to Exercise?

In general, the best time to exercise is 1-3 hours after eating, when your blood sugar level is usually higher.

If you use insulin, it’s important to test your blood sugar before, during, and after exercising. If the level before exercise is below 100 mg/dL, eat a small snack to boost your blood sugar. Test again 30 minutes later to determine whether your blood sugar level is stable. It’s also a good idea to check your blood sugar after any particularly grueling workout or activity. Also, your risk of developing hypoglycemia may be highest six to 12 hours after exercising. This means that diabetics should begin an exercise regimen with greater awareness of blood sugar levels, at least for a few weeks.

This might seem surprising, but experts caution against exercising if your blood sugar reads over 250 because exercise can raise blood sugar even higher.

Preparing for your fitness routine

Be certain that you always exercise safely. A first step is to check with your healthcare provider prior to starting a workout regimen. Other tips include:

  • Start slowly, gradually increasing over time, with intensity, or both
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise
  • All type-1 and type-2 diabetes who are controlled with insulin should check their blood sugar before and after exercise. This helps determine how the body responds to your new regimen
  • Always wear identification stating any disease; an important precaution in case there’s an emergency/li>
  • Wear comfortable clothing, shoes, and cotton socks
  • Always check your feet for cuts or scrapes; call your healthcare provider if these don’t show signs of healing in 2-3 days
  • Refrain from exercising in extreme hot or cold environments

Let’s get physical. There are so many ways to add exercise to our lives, and it’s fun to do with others or on our own. Over time, we wonder, “Why didn’t I start sooner?”