Is exercise really important?
There are many benefits of exercise, especially for people with diabetes.
- Helping to improve the blood glucose levels
- Improve fitness
- Keeping weight down
- Helps with keeping a healthy heart
- Lowering blood pressure.
On top of these benefits, exercise gives us a general feeling of wellbeing, and that helps improve self-esteem and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
These effects are because the body is producing chemicals called endorphins and serotonin.
These chemicals are what creates those feelings of wellbeing.
So – overall exercise and activity are good for everyone!
When we talk about exercise, we mean any physical activity that is planned, structured and involves repetitive body movements. These will all improve or maintain physical fitness.
Does exercise have anything to do with diabetes?
Exercise helps insulin to work better. That includes both the insulin the body makes, or that is injected into it. If insulin works better, people need less of it, and that also tends to help people lose weight.
Physical activity is technically any muscle movement that burns off energy. So everything counts, and it’s never too late to get more active. If you are worried about your health, and whether it is safe for you to start a particular activity – speak to your doctor or nurse for advice, but even little changes to everyday life can make a big difference.
Building exercise into every day
It is recommended that people include activity into their daily lives. Varying what you do can prevents people from becoming bored with it. Here are some small changes that anyone can try to build in:-
- Using stairs instead of taking lifts or escalator
- Instead of taking the car – either walk or cycle for short journeys
- Get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the last bit of your journey
- Park at the far end of the car park
- Go for a brisk walk during the lunch break
- Jobs that have a lot of sitting around should be broken up with regular walking around
- Go for a regular walk, a pet dog will thank you for it!
- Take up an active hobby like swimming or playing golf, exercising with a friend in will make it more fun and might encourage you to do it more often
How hard should exercise be?
The Department of Health has recommendations on the different types of exercise.
Moderate intensity exercise
This is any activity that makes someone feel warmer, breathe harder and makes their heart beat faster. The person should still be able to talk or hold a conversation during this type of exercise. Great examples of this are brisk walking or cycling.
It is recommended that this type of exercise should be performed for at least 150 minutes or 2 1/2 hours per week. This can be broken down into bouts of 10 minutes or more. One way is to do 30 minutes on five days of the week. Lots of people will need to start with less and work towards that. More than that is better still, but every little helps.
Vigorous intensity exercise
This is something that makes the person feel warmer, breathe harder and make the heart beat faster, but unlike with moderate intensity exercise, it would be difficult to continue with a conversation.
Examples of exercise that could make a person feel like this are playing sports such as football, running and swimming.
This vigorous intensity activity is recommended to take place for at least 75 minutes per week.
These activities should take place at least twice per week. These mean working the body against resistance. Things like dancing, stepping or jumping, exercising with weights or carrying and moving heavy loads would all count for this.
How to become more active.
We nearly all spend too much time sitting down – that’s called a sedentary lifestyle. Try to break some of the bad habits of a sedentary lifestyle. Cut down on sitting watching TV, playing computer games or being on the computer. Try to incorporate some activity as often as you possible.
As people grow older it may be harder to become more physically active and the targets set by Government may see unachievable, but remember some activity is better than none at all. Anything you can do will have some form of wellbeing effect and the more you do now, the more you’ll be able to do in future – as exercise stops mobility from getting worse in people with physical difficulties.
Try to find something enjoyable, as most people are more likely to keep doing something they actually like doing! Keeping a record of the activity can help encourage people so they can see they’re making progress, and it’s something to be proud of. Try new activities if the opportunities arise – people won’t know if it suits until they try.
How does exercise affect blood sugars and diabetes?
Gentle activity is unlikely to have much of an effect on blood glucose levels, but the more vigorous it is the more of an effect it is likely to have. If an exercise is likely to drop the blood sugar, some people may need to eat some extra carbohydrates to keep them going, or even adjust their medication on those days, so before starting a new exercise regime discuss it with a HCP to look at the most suitable type of activity and any changes you might need to make because of their diabetes.
It is a good idea to check blood glucose levels before and after exercise or activity to establish the body’s individual reaction. Ensure hypo treatment is available and let someone know about the diabetes if there is a risk of hypo. Wear some diabetes identification too – just in case. This is explained more in the section on hypoglycaemia. But for all these precautions, remember premiership footballers like Gary Mabbot and Olympic rower Sir Steve Redgrave didn’t let diabetes get in the way of exercise.
Top tips for exercise
- Warm up prior to commencing exercise
- Allow a period to cool down afterwards
- Wear suitable, well fitting shoes or trainers. Seek the advice of a podiatrist if needed.
- Keep feet dry and have a good look at them before and after activity
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
- Wear or carry some ID relating to diabetes
- Carry treatment for hypoglycaemia
Everyone can benefit from adding more activity and exercise into their daily routine. It doesn’t have to mean wearing lycra or joining a gym, but finding something that suits and is enjoyable can make a big difference to the mind, body and diabetes. It might seem an effort to start with but it is definitely worth it!
For more information of activities available in the local area, such as supervised taster sessions, exercise referral sessions or listings of group activities such as walking groups, badminton sessions and much more:-
For further information on exercise go to our pages on films or podcasts: