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Diabetes & Exercise: Avoid Nerve Pain, Improve Balance

Slow or Prevent Diabetes Nerve Damage

Got an exercise plan? Stick with it. Doing so could help control nerve pain, or peripheral neuropathy. In one study, people who took a brisk one-hour walk on a treadmill four times a week were able to slow the rate at which their nerve damage worsened. The key is making activity a regular part of your life. Talk to your doctor first to see what kind of workout is right for you.

Look for Low-Impact Exercise

Swimming and water aerobics are easier on your body than running or biking. The water supports your body, putting less pressure on feet affected by nerve pain. You might also try yoga and tai chi.Their movements can restore your balance and help you relax.  

Ease Into Exercise

It’s not easy to start an exercise routine. Start slowly. Try 5 minutes of extra movement a day and add a little more time each day. Set a goal of 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

If you have nerve damage and you’re worried about falls, start with some moves that can build your balance.

Work on Balance

To boost it, 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 with no hands.

Stand on One Leg

Slowly raise one foot off the ground so you’re standing on one leg. Try holding for 30 seconds, then switch. As you get better, try to hold the pose 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. Make sure there’s a steady object nearby in case you need to steady yourself.

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 backward.

Go Up on Your Tiptoes

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 to stay in the pose longer.

You can do these balance moves every day. Add other activities as you get more confident in your balance.

Get Checked Out

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 your feet and other wound-prone areas. When you have diabetes, you need to treat blisters, cracks, cuts, and scrapes with extra care to avoid infection.

Be Prepared!

A good pair of athletic shoes that fits right is key when you have diabetes. They can help you avoid foot injury. When shopping, look for a roomy toe box to prevent unwanted rubbing and blisters.

Headed off to a workout? Pack a quick source of carbs in case your blood sugar drops. Hard candy and raisins are good choices.


Keep Track of Your Blood Sugar

Check your levels before and after a workout. That’ll help you learn how exercise affects your blood sugar and 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, check for ketones in your urine. If the results are moderate or high, work on getting them down. Delay exercise until then.

Make Fitness Fun

There’s no reason your workout can’t be something you enjoy. That way you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Did you like a certain activity as a teen or child? Try picking it up again. Having fun can boost your fitness and your spirits. You don’t need to work up a major sweat for it to do you some good.

Buddy Up

Make plans with a buddy to work out. A friend, neighbor, your partner, or even your pet are all great options. You and your buddy can help each other stick with your plans to stay active. Making it social may be just what you need to get up and go. And picking a workout buddy at your fitness level can also help you to feel comfortable. You can also try group classes at the gym or a rec league 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 Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 27, 2016

Sources: Sources

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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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