Safe and Focused Exercising with Diabetes

by | Nov 16, 2018

Exercise should be a solid part of every diabetes management plan. Consistent activity can be an effective way to counter the progression of the disease, slowing the development of many negative effects. It is also a boon toward more efficient management of blood sugar levels, improved strength, longer lasting endurance, and heightened emotional well-being.

However, as we noted in our previous blog on diabetic foot care, living with diabetes comes with a set of precautions. You want to do all you can to fight back, but you must do so in ways that don’t risk harm to your body—especially your feet.

Exercising with diabetes does not have to be complicated. It does not have to be a boring slog. Some proper planning will help ensure you can move in the ways you enjoy and will allow you to reap all the benefits.

What types of exercise should I perform?

There isn’t one single exercise routine that everyone who has diabetes should follow. Everyone will have different needs when it comes to building strength, balance, endurance, and other fitness factors. Everyone will also have different challenges that might make certain forms of exercise less beneficial or even risky to perform.

An ultimate fitness plan should be discussed with the doctors who best understand your current condition, goals, and needs. Along with your primary physician for diabetic care, we can help you create routines that are safe, effective, and enjoyable.

Also keep in mind that “exercise” does not always have to mean vigorous or intense activity. Lower impact forms of exercise such as walking, tai chi, and work with small weights can have extremely helpful effects on your overall health. They are also generally safer than some alternatives.

General advice for exercising with diabetes

Blood sugar levels are often a consistent concern when living diabetes, and exercise might cause unexpected fluctuations.

It is very important to be mindful of your levels and what effects exercise can have on them, especially when you are just starting with a new routine. Follow these guidelines as best you can:

  • Exercise around the same time each day. This will help you establish a more consistent foundation for your blood sugar levels, allowing you to better determine how your routine is affecting them.
  • Work out with a friend who understands your condition and knows how to respond if your blood sugar becomes too low or another problem arises. If you can’t find a workout buddy, carry some form of ID that will alert others of your diabetes.
  • Check your blood sugar before you exercise, and do not begin if it is not within the guidelines you have agreed upon with your primary diabetes physician. If it is too low, bring a carbohydrate snack (usually 30 grams) and check your sugar again later. If it is too high, do not start exercising until it is below the proper level.
  • Do not exercise if you are sick or otherwise feeling unwell. Illness can further destabilize your blood sugar levels. Hold off until you are feeling well again.

How could I focus on my feet while exercising?

While everyone’s particular exercise plan with diabetes will vary, we will almost always recommend some form of focus on building strength and stability in the feet. Since diabetes can be especially detrimental to foot health over time, building strength and stability up can help you fight back.

Foot and ankle focused exercises can easily be worked into a standard routine, and many can be performed separately while seated or standing. Certain types of exercise that might be recommended include:

  • Stability exercises. Balance work can help guard against falls, which become increasingly likely when diabetic neuropathy is present in the feet. Many stability exercises involve balancing on one leg while performing slow, controlled movements. Heel-to-toe walking is also a common suggestion. Any recommended stability exercises should be performed in an open area free of obstacles, and next to a wall or other form of support if one is needed.
  • Strength exercises. While you might benefit from some free weights or gym equipment, there are many strength exercises that can be performed without them. Strength in toes can be built with toe curls and pickups (grasping marbles with your toes and depositing them in a bowl). Heel raises and calf stretches may also be options for building supporting strength.
  • Range of motion exercises. Maintaining flexibility will help with both mobility and stability over time. The ankle is frequently the main focus of this type of exercise, where routines can involve writing out the alphabet in the air using your toe as an invisible pen. Range of motion in the toes can be worked through dorsiflexion exercises.

We can recommend a good routine that will work best for your needs and schedule, and we will be more than happy to show you how to perform them correctly!

Take action and take control

Exercising with diabetes might feel challenging at first, but we believe the results are more than worth getting over that initial hurdle. Seeing and feeling the effects of what you are doing, and knowing it’s all based on your choices, can be very empowering.

Not only can we help you build your optimal routine for lower body strength and stability, we can also provide advice, treatments, and preventative care to help make sure you are as comfortable and safe as possible when you are active.

To schedule an appointment for diabetic foot care or any other foot and ankle concerns, please give us a call at (616) 393-8886. Our offices in Holland and St. Joseph are open for you!



Holland Office

388 Garden Avenue, Suite 120
Holland, MI 49424
Phone: 616-393-8886
Fax: 616-393-9975



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