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Diabetes & Exercise: Avoid Nerve Pain, Improve Balance

Slow or Prevent Diabetes Nerve Damage

Stick with your exercise plan, and it may help control diabetes-related nerve pain (peripheral neuropathy). In one study, people who took a brisk 1-hour walk on a treadmill four times a week slowed how quickly their nerve damage worsened. The key is to make exercise a regular part of your life. If you're not active now, talk with your doctor to see what type of exercise is right for you.

Look for Low-Impact Exercise

Swimming or water aerobics are gentle on your body. Water supports you, so there's 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.

Ease In to Exercise

At first, it can be a challenge to make exercise a habit. So start slowly. Get just 5 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, 5 days a week.

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

Work on Balance

A simple move is to practice 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 toward doing it using just your legs.

Stand on One Leg

Slowly raise one foot off the ground so that you stand on one leg. Try to hold that pose for 30 seconds, then switch legs. As you get better, balance for a little longer. You can do this move anywhere -- at the sink in the morning, in line at the grocery store, or while you talk on the phone. Your goal is to do this hands-free. In case you need to steady yourself, have something stable to hold onto nearby.

'Walk a Tight Rope'

No high wire needed for this move -- just follow the same motion. Walk heel to toe. Line one foot up directly in front of the other as you step forward. Bend in your knees slightly and spread out your arms to help you balance. For an extra challenge, take a few steps backward.

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. You can do balance moves every day. 

Check Your Feet

After each workout, look for any injuries to your feet or other parts of your body. When you have diabetes, you need to take extra care with blisters, cracks, cuts, and scrapes to avoid infection.

Get Ready!

You need athletic shoes that fit you well. They can help you avoid a foot injury. Look for those with a roomy toe box to prevent unwanted rubbing and blisters.

Before you work out, pack a quick source of carbs, like hard candy or raisins, in case your blood sugar drops. 

Blood Sugar and Exercise

Learn how exercise affects your blood sugar level by checking it before and after your workout. The safe range for exercise is between 100 and 250 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

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

Make Fitness Fun

If you enjoy it, you'll stick with it. Is there something you've always wanted to try or get back to? As long as your doctor says you're ready, go for it! 

Buddy Up

Make plans with someone to work out together. A friend, neighbor, your partner, or even your pet are great options. Company helps you stay committed and motivated. You can also work out with people in group classes at a gym or join a recreational team.

Try Something New

Mix up your routine. Try a new activity, such as golf, badminton, bowling, kayaking, or ballroom dancing. You can take a class or check out an exercise app, DVD, or online video. 

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

Sources: Sources

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

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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.

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