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Exercise has huge benefits for people with diabetes. If you're ready to add more activity to your routine, here are five tips to help you get your exercise program off to a safe start.

Know How Much Exercise You Need

The American Heart Association recommends that people with diabetes get about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day, 5 days a week. That includes brisk walking, or any activity that gets your heart beating faster but isn't pushing your limits. People with type 2 diabetes should add two strength-training sessions a week, doing at least five exercises involving the major muscle groups.

But be realistic at the start. Don't expect to start off with 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily if you've been inactive for a while. Start slow -- even walking 15 minutes twice a day is great for people who are just starting out. You can slowly make your workouts longer and more challenging.

Protect Your Feet

Diabetes makes foot problems more likely. So when you're exercising, take extra care of your feet.

To protect against foot injuries, especially if you have diabetic nerve damage or circulation problems, wear cotton socks and athletic shoes that fit well and have plenty of room in the toe. Always check your feet every day for blisters, cuts, bumps, redness, or sores.

Watch Your Blood Sugar

Exercise can have an immediate and long-term effect on blood sugar. 

If you're taking insulin or medications that lower blood sugar levels, test 30 minutes before and every 30 minutes during exercise to make sure you're stable. If you take insulin, avoid activity during its peak action time. Also, skip shots in the arms and legs on days you plan to work out.

For most people, a blood sugar level between 100 mg/dL and 250 mg/dL is an OK pre-workout range. Here are some general guidelines for other readings. If your blood sugar is:

  • Lower than 100 mg/dL: Have a snack with carbs -- fruit or crackers.
  • 250 mg/dL or higher: Test for ketones, compounds your body makes when it doesn't have enough insulin. If you're active when ketones are high, it can make you ill.
  • 300 mg/dL: Wait to exercise until it drops.

Stop exercising if:

  • You feel shaky, anxious, weak, or confused.
  • You're sweating more than usual.
  • Your heart is racing.
  • You have a headache.

These could be signs that your sugar is dropping or low, and they can happen during or several hours after exercise.

Drink water before, during, and after exercise. Don't wait until you feel thirsty.

Have a Snack

Exercise can lower blood sugar, so if you have type 1 diabetes, eat a light snack 1 to 3 hours before a workout, depending on the type of insulin you use.

During exercise, keep on hand items such as 3-5 glucose tabs, a small carton of fruit juice, a few pieces of hard candy, or 2 tablespoons of raisins to quickly raise your blood sugar if needed.

Ask your doctor for tips on working out while wearing an insulin pump. If you're using injected or inhaled short- or rapid-acting insulin, talk with your doctor about lowering doses pre-exercise.

Make Workouts Fun

Look for ways to add more activity to your day. Take your dog on an extra walk, wash your car by hand, or lift weights between shows while you're watching TV.

Want to make exercise more fun? Bring a friend. Working out with a partner can make you more likely to do it -- and stick with it.

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