Physical Activity - A Key to Wellness

Exercise is an important part of your diabetes management. Your healthcare team will discuss the importance of physical activity for your overall health. Recommendations should be safe, realistic and take diet and medication into consideration. You may be required to test your blood sugar regularly before and after activity when first setting up your plan. This will help determine how activity affects your blood glucose levels so that you can exercise safely. This is especially important if you are taking insulin.

The Benefits of Activity

Physical activity can be a powerful tool in preventing or delaying the development and/or progression of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, arthritis, depression and certain types of cancer. The bottom line though, is that the majority of Canadians are not getting enough physical activity on a daily basis.

The benefits to regular physical activity include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved lipid profile (decreased LDL or "bad" cholesterol and increased HDL or "good" cholesterol)
  • Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improved blood sugar control in those that do have diabetes
  • Reduced risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Weight loss and/or maintenance
  • Higher bone density, fewer fractures and falls and lower risk of osteoporosis
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Decreased depression
  • Reduced stress

Incorporating Physical Activity into Your Daily Life

The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends that you aim for 150 minutes of physical activity spread throughout the week (for example, 30 minutes on 5 days of the week). How you fit that in is up to you. Research has shown that exercise can improve blood sugar levels for 12-36 hours after the activity.

  1. Be more active in daily life. Increase activity throughout the day - even 10-minute sessions can have a positive effect; participate in leisure sports, walking the dog, yoga, dancing, playing with your kids, etc.
  2. Establish a regular routine. Aim to exercise on most, and preferably all, days at a moderate level for 30 to 60 minutes.
  3. Do age-appropriate resistance training activities. Try to include these muscle building activities into your schedule at least twice a week.
  4. Stretch or do flexibility exercises. Do these before and/or after physical activities on most, preferably all, days of the week.

The Risks of Activity

If you are taking diabetes medication or insulin, hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), can be a real concern. Speak with your healthcare team before starting a new exercise plan or making changes to your current plan.

Check your blood glucose levels before and after exercise. Learn your own signs and symptoms of low blood glucose. Common signs are trembling, sweating, anxiety, hunger, nausea, confusion, dizziness or blurred vision. Low blood glucose can cause people to lose consciousness, if not treated quickly. If you feel any of these symptoms, stop the activity and test your blood glucose, if you can. If not, to be safe, simply treat it as hypoglycemia and ingest fast acting carbohydrate, such as glucose tablets. If after 15 minutes, you still feel low or your blood glucose is less than 4 mmol/L, take another tablet. Be sure to follow up with your normally scheduled meal or snack to prevent post-exercise low blood glucose.