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Living with Diabetes: Getting Started with Fitness

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Ask any healthcare provider and they will tell you that exercise is an important part of staying healthy with diabetes. Physical activity has several benefits including lowering blood sugar levels, reducing your risk for heart disease and stroke, and improving your overall wellness. But not everyone is excited about the prospect of exercise—especially if you are new to exercise or are just returning to a more active lifestyle.

The good news is that getting started is easier than you may think.  The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with type 2 diabetes exercise for 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Adults with type 1 diabetes can follow the same recommendation as long as they are careful to balance their insulin doses with the amount of activity performed to prevent high or low blood sugar levels.

Here are some ways you can get started on a fitness routine:

–Keep safety in mind. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.  Make sure your heart is healthy and can tolerate activity—if you are approved, work out with confidence.

Track your blood sugar levels carefully. Until you know how exercise may affect your blood sugar levels, watch them closely. Sugars may swing high or low for up to 24 hours after activity and it’s important to respond to them promptly. Using an insulin pump is a great way to have insulin available at all times.  If you haven’t looked at pumps in a while, they have gotten significantly smaller and easier to use in recent years, including touch screen options like the t:slim and t:flex Insulin Pumps. Alternatively, low blood sugar should be treated with a quick acting source of glucose.

–Take it easy. No one is recommending that you start with an aggressive, high-intensity workout. You may want to start with a few things as simple as stretching and trying to stand more during the day. When you’re ready, you can start walking. Take a stroll past your neighbor’s house or down the block and back. This is a good start. Move at a pace that’s right for you.

–Try a pedometer.  It can be very encouraging to see your progress and set fitness goals. Try to choose a number of steps you want to take each day and then work toward that goal. On days you haven’t reached it, take a few extra minutes to get out and move.

–Wear your medical ID. If you exercise alone or with other people who may not be aware of your diabetes (like in a gym) make sure to wear your medical ID necklace or tag and keep a cell phone with you in case you need to call for help.

–Keep an eye on your feet. Remember that diabetes can affect the health of your feet and slow healing if they are injured. Make sure to check the inside of your shoes before you put them on. Feel for any sharp edges, rocks or foreign objects that might be inside. Make sure your shoes fit well and wear socks that pull moisture away from your skin (not cotton).  You should also check your feet for any signs of bruising, blisters or injury after a workout and report any problems to your doctor.

Even with diabetes, you can get out and get moving with the right precautions. If you are still unsure about where to start, talk to your healthcare provider. He or she will be able to recommend activities that are right for you and your specific healthcare needs.

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