Exercise and Diabetes: Knowing Your Limits

Love it or hate it, exercise is crucial if you want to keep your blood sugar at an optimal level. And don't forget all the other benefits, such as sleeping better at night, keeping your weight in check, and just feeling better overall. But—and don't think this gives you a reprieve next time you're feeling too lazy to get to the gym—according to experts, it is possible to exercise too much.

"It is definitely possible to overdo," says Jenny Evans, exercise physiologist and performance coach. "When you exercise, you break down muscle tissue and then the body goes in to repair these minor damages. That is actually when muscle growth occurs."

She explains that while stressing out a muscle through exercise is what stimulates muscle growth, growth only occurs during recovery. So if you do resistance training day after day and don't allow the muscle time to recover, it not only does not allow for muscle growth, it increases the risk of injury to that muscle.

A very intense workout can affect a diabetic to the point where hypoglycemia can occur, says Andrea Pennington, MD, a specialist in wellness and diabetes prevention. "The best way to avoid this sugar crash is to eat a snack every three hours and stay well hydrated," she says. "Check your blood sugar right after exercise to see if you need a snack to replenish what you burned off. And talk to your doctor if you are working out a little more than you had been so you can get his or her recommendations for keeping your blood sugar levels stable."

So how much exercise should you get? The CDC recommends aiming for about one half hour of moderate-intensity exercise on five or more days per week.  Walking, swimming, bicycling and dancing are some of the options. And add in some strength training exercises as well, to help you build up muscle.

To keep safe during exercise, review these guidelines recommended by the CDC:

  • Check your blood sugar before exercise, and if it's below 100, eat a small snack. Take food or glucose tablets with you when you exercise in case you get a low blood sugar.

  • If you have diabetes, you shouldn't be skipping any meals at all, but this is even more important to remember before you exercise.

  • Wear cotton socks and well-fitting athletic shoes, and check your feet afterwards for sores, blisters or other injuries.

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration can affect your blood sugar.

  • If you suffer complications from diabetes, your doctor may tell you to avoid certain kinds of exercise. For instance, working with heavy weights can be bad for people with blood pressure, eye or blood vessel problems.

  • Don't exercise if your blood glucose is above 300 or if your fasting blood glucose is above 250 and you have ketones in your urine.