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What to Know Before You Exercise With Diabetes

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Exercise may do more things for you than you realize, if you have diabetes.

You probably already know that it's good for your heart, and that it can help you lose weight. But did you know that it will lower your blood sugar levels by prompting your body to use insulin more effectively? It may also help you need less medication, insulin, or other therapies.

Over time, it can help your A1C level, which reflects your blood sugar control over the past 3 months. Plus, exercise makes you less likely to get heart disease, and it can help you lose weight when coupled with dieting.

Start with these 7 simple strategies:

1. Check in with your doctor first.

Your doctor will make sure you're ready for whatever you want to do. Just a few things, like lifting heavy weights, can be dangerous if diabetes has damaged the blood vessels in your eyes, or if you have cataracts or glaucoma. And if you have diabetes-related nerve damage in your feet, you may need to choose activities that don't put too much pressure on your feet. There will still be plenty of things you can do. Your doctor should be able to advise you on what you can do, and may also recommend taking an exercise stress test.

2. Do what you like.

You can generally do just about any type of exercise you enjoy when you have diabetes. Walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, and other cardio activities are great for torching calories and getting your heart pumping. Your goal: Build up to at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity.

3. Add some strength training to your routine twice a week.

Using weights or working with resistance bands helps build muscle. More muscle activity also boosts your metabolism, so you'll burn more calories throughout the day and night, even after your workout.

4. Check your meds and your blood sugar.

Be sure to ask your doctor about how any medicine you're taking might affect you during exercise. Some drugs may make your blood sugar drop too low, causing dizziness, fainting, or seizures. Simple steps, such as testing your blood sugar before you work out and eating a snack if your level is below 100, can help a lot. You may also want to keep some juice or glucose tablets on hand for a quick boost if your sugar does drop unexpectedly. If you take insulin or other medications, ask your doctor if you need to adjust them on days you exercise or just before heading to the gym.

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