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Family Foot & Ankle

Exercising Safely with Diabetes

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One of the biggest frustrations about living with diabetes is how it seems to make your efforts to fight it more challenging.

You want to eat better, but just about everything you love has been taking of your list. You want to be prepared, but you have such strict medications now.

And there’s exercise. There is no denying that consistent activity is a boon toward building stability, stabilizing blood sugar, and maintaining healthy circulation. These are all fantastic—but you still need to exercise some caution.

If you don’t exercise wisely and listen to what your body is trying to tell you, there is a chance you can risk doing more harm instead of good.

Also, as you might expect hearing from us, not paying attention to your feet can lead to injuries that can impede your efforts or, even worse, grow into major problems.

So if you have been thinking of exercising with diabetes (and you should be in some regard), it can be very important to keep the following tips in mind.

Consult Before You Begin

You might see this all the time in articles that discuss exercise and physical activity, but you really should check in with your doctor before you start a routine.

A physician who knows your history with diabetes and other conditions can best advise you on how to ease into a regimen that doesn't increase your risks of injury, make a poor complement to your medications, or cause other problems. On the other side of the coin, they can also help you find the best ways to optimize what you are doing to reap the most benefits from it. It’s a win-win-situation.

There is absolutely no shame in discussing your workout plans with a doctor, especially if your plans are low-intensity. A workout that heavily relies on walking or other less stressful activities can still be an excellent resource for you, and we want to be sure you are getting the best from it.

woman consulting with doctor

Take Some Pre-Workout Precautions

Exercise should leave you feeling good and accomplished once it’s finished. Unfortunately, the effects of diabetes can have ways of making you feel terrible when you least want to.

Making some prep part of your routine before a workout can help keep these negative effects from happening, or make them less day-ruining if they do. Keep the following in mind:

  • Check your blood sugar before you start a workout. Make sure it’s in the target range you have established with your primary physician.
     
  • Have at least 15 grams of carbs on you in case you experience low blood sugar. It should be fast-acting, such as fruit juice, gels, or glucose tablets. This can be saved for whenever needed, but some people may find it effective to have within the 2 hours after working out.
     
  • Fluid is your friend. Make sure you have plenty before and after your workout, as well as easy access to water as you exercise.
     
  • If you plan on a long workout, you will want to be able to check your blood sugar periodically during this time. Talk this over with your primary physician and follow their advice on how often you should monitor your levels to determine whether they are stable. In general, you should stop exercise if your blood sugar level is at 70 mg/dL or less.
     

Once you have a better indication of how your body responds to changes in blood sugar, it may not become as necessary to check it so often. But speaking of responding to signals…

Know the Signs of Low Blood Sugar

Working out can cause some stress in itself, but you should still be on watch for any symptoms that are out of the ordinary for your routine.

You should immediately stop exercising if you sense any of these symptoms:

  • weakness
     
  • dizziness
     
  • confusion
     
  • anxiety
     
  • shakiness
     
  • sweating more than usual
     

Test your blood sugar at this time and take your fast-acting carbohydrates, if needed. Wait 15 minutes and check your blood sugar level again. Have more carbohydrates if still below 70 mg/DL and wait another 15 minutes. Repeat until blood sugar level returns to at least 70 mg/DL.

Watch Your Feet

Yes, we’re podiatrists; but that does not mean we are exaggerating when we say monitoring your feet is a crucial part of a workout plan!

The effects of diabetes can lead to injuries to the feet being harder to heal, and sometimes keep them from being felt due to nerve damage. A cut or scrape on the foot that goes unnoticed can grow worse as you continue to use it—especially in high-impact activities. That can lead to large sores and the potential for serious infections.

checking feet

Thankfully, it’s not difficult to keep your feet in check!

Examine your feet before and after your routine. Check for any cuts, sores, blisters, or anything else that may appear out of the ordinary. If you do see something, give us a call.

Inspect your feet after a workout too, just in case you had a run-in with something or had too much friction rubbing against you.

Speaking of friction, opt for active-style socks made from polyester. They tend to dry faster than normal socks, reducing the overall amount of friction on your feet.

Your shoes should also always be made for the activity you are currently participating in and have a proper fit. If you have custom orthotics prescribed as part of your diabetic foot care plan, they should most likely be used with your athletic shoes as well. Check with us on this.

We Like It When It All Works Out

When done with some considerations in mind, exercise is going to be a great boost to your mood, health, and confidence.

We want to help you make sure as little as possible gets in the way of your goals, especially when your feet and ankles are concerned. If you have any questions about pain or discomfort in your lower limbs, or simply how you should go about best protecting your feet when exercising with diabetes, give our office a call at (513) 728-4800. We’ll be happy to be your diabetic foot care coach!

Dr. Cynthia Miller
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Dr. Cynthia Miller is a board certified podiatrist who has been established in the Cincinnati area since 2004.
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