5 Exercise Tips for Diabetes Patients

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Take your diabetes complications into account.

While people with diabetes should definitely incorporate exercise into their routine, complications associated with the condition can require modifications, or simply taking it easy sometimes.

Indications that you might need to take the day off include soaring blood sugar levels, tingling or sharp pains (especially in the legs), illness, difficulty breathing, or the presence of ketones in your urine. 

Certain diabetes complications can also mean that it’s unsafe to work out—or that you should at least avoid specific exercises. Here are some complications that commonly occur in tandem with diabetes and how to work around them: 

  • Heart disease: Limit yourself to low- or moderate-intensity workouts. This includes brisk walks, yard work, or routines centered around flexibility and stretching. Avoid isometric exercises and working out in extreme temperatures. 
  • High blood pressure: Again, avoid strenuous exercise and isometric workouts. Moderate activities are suitable for patients with high blood pressure, but always consult with your doctor first. Water workouts are often suitable for patients like this. 
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Always be aware of any wounds or ulcers on your limbs, especially the feet. Injuries like these are slow to heal on diabetes patients, and certain exercises can make this problem worse. When any injuries are present, it’s especially important to avoid any high-impact activities or exercises that involve being on your feet for long, intensive periods of time. Instead, opt for low-impact activities, like cycling or water routines. Walking is fine, as long as no wounds are currently present. 
  • Autonomic neuropathy: Be extremely cautious about staying hydrated and avoiding heat. Talk to your doctor about whether or not a stress test is appropriate for you, and opt for activities that let you gradually change position to avoid dizziness and passing out. Give yourself extra time to work up to the desired length for any workout. 
  • Retinopathy: Again, stay away from strenuous activities. Avoid things that require holding your breath for long periods of time during strength training activities. Exercises that keep your head below your abdomen are also not recommended. Gentle, low-impact activities are best for diabetes patients with this complication.