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Diabetes Exercise Checklist

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.

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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