Skip to content

Diabetes & Exercise: Avoid Nerve Pain, Improve Balance

Slow or Prevent Diabetes Nerve Damage

Staying dedicated to exercise may help control nerve pain or peripheral neuropathy. According to one study, people who took a brisk one-hour walk on a treadmill four times a week slowed how quickly their nerve damage worsened. The key is making exercise a regular part of your life with diabetes. But first, speak with your doctor to see which exercise is right for you.

Look for Low-Impact Exercise

Swimming or water aerobics can be gentle forms of exercise. Water supports your body, putting less pressure on feet affected by nerve pain. Yoga and tai chi may also be good choices. Their movements may help with balance and relaxation.

Overcome Fear, Start Slow

Starting exercise can be challenging. Make it easier by starting slowly. Try five minutes of extra movement a day and add a little more time each day. The American Diabetes Association recommends building up to 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

If you have nerve damage and are concerned about falls, start with some moves to build your balance.

Working on Balance

Build your balance by practicing rising out of a chair. Do it three times in a row. At first you can use your arms to help and steady you. Work towards doing it unassisted. This is one of several moves to try to improve your balance.

Balance on One Leg

Slowly raise one foot off the ground so that you are standing on one leg. Try holding for 30 seconds, then switch. As you get better, try and balance for a little longer. You can practice this move most anywhere -- at the sink in the morning, in line at the grocery store, or while talking on the phone. Your goal is to do this hands-free. In case you need to steady yourself, have a stable object nearby.

Walk a Tight Rope

No high wire needed for this move -- just follow the same motion. Practice walking heel to toe. Line one foot up directly in front of the other as you step forward. Leave some bend in your knees and spread out your arms to help you balance. For an extra challenge, reverse and try taking a few steps backwards.

Tippy Toe

Stand near a chair, railing, or other object for support. Slowly rise up onto the balls of both feet and hold. Do three times. Each time try and hold longer.

Balance moves can be done every day. With more confidence in your balance you can add other activities.

Before You Start, Get Checked

Get your heart, eyes, and feet checked out by your doctor before starting a new form of exercise. After each workout look for injury to feet, and other areas prone to injury. When you have diabetes blisters, cracks, cuts, and scrapes should be treated with extra care to avoid infection.

Proper Footwear and Pack a Snack

Having a good fitting pair of athletic shoes is especially important for people with diabetes. They can help you avoid foot injury. When shopping, look for a roomy toe box to prevent unwanted rubbing and blisters.

On your way to exercising, pack a quick source of carbs in case your blood sugar drops. Hard candy and raisins may be good choices.

Blood Sugar and Exercise

Check blood glucose before and after exercise. It can help you learn exercise's effect on your blood sugar to help you manage it. The safe range for exercise is between 100 and 250 mg/dL.

If your average blood sugar is over 250 mg/dL and you have type 1 diabetes, you'll want to check for ketones in your urine. If it is moderate or high, delay exercise until it lowers.

Make Fitness Fun

By making exercising something you enjoy, you'll be more likely to keep it up. Did you like a certain activity as a teen or child? Try picking it back up again. Having fun can boost your fitness and your spirits. You don't need to work up a major sweat to gain benefits.

Make a Date

Make plans with a buddy to work out. A friend, neighbor, your partner, or even your pet are great options. You and your buddy can help each other stay committed to exercising. Making it social may provide extra motivation. And picking a workout buddy at your fitness level can also help you to feel comfortable. Other ways to work out with others include group classes at the gym or recreational teams.

Try Something New

Mix up your routine. Try a new sport or take a lesson to learn a new activity, such as golf, badminton, bowling, kayaking, or ballroom dancing. Or check out a new exercise DVD or video. The idea is to fight boredom and keep physical activity interesting.

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 12, 2014

Sources: Sources

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information: Disclaimer

© 2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Additional Resources

Foot Care Tip

Look over both feet carefully every day, and be sure you check between all of your toes. Blisters and infections can start between your toes, and with diabetic neuropathy, you may not feel them until they've become irritated or infected.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.

Diabetes Nerve Pain Poll

Where is your nerve pain or numbness the worst?

View Results