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Exercise: What Every Diabetic Needs to Know

Por Eleazar Lara-Pantin, MD, MSc.* -

If you suffer from diabetes, you already know that nutrition and insulin can certainly help you manage your condition. But you may have overlooked one simple thing that can provide you with countless benefits and greatly improve your health: exercise.

One of the best things diabetics can do, actually, is to be physically active. It’s a known fact that exercise contributes to lowering the levels of sugar in the blood, because cells use sugar more efficiently. This happens because during and after exercise, the body uses glucose, or sugar, as a source of energy.

Moreover, regular exercise is a key factor for eliminating excess weight, which usually accompanies most patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a health condition in which the body doesn't produce enough insulin, or use it adequately, and one of its risk factors is obesity.
Another reason why diabetics should stay active is because exercise plays a very important role in preventing cardiovascular disease, which is the major cause of death among diabetics. For these patients, incorporating exercise into their lifestyle helps to counteract the increased risk of dying from a severe vascular problem or from a heart attack.

Typically, a diabetic who has regular checkups and keeps his/her condition under control can choose the type of exercise he/she wishes to do just as any healthy person of the same age and lifestyle. Among these, aerobic exercise is an excellent alternative, because it offers lots of variety (walking, jogging, bicycling, and swimming, among others) and because this type of exercise makes the heart work harder.

However, we recommend that diabetics consult their physician before starting an exercise plan. Your health care professional should be aware of your condition and participate in designing and supervising your exercise program. When choosing what exercise to do, go for something that you enjoy doing on a regular basis. The benefits from exercise will depend on whether they're done on a regular basis--even more so in the case of diabetics. For exercise to make a difference, it’s advisable that you exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. When you start, exercise only every other day and do short and low-intensity sessions. Increase the intensity little by little until your body can handle greater levels of physical activity.

If you have diabetes, you should take the following into account when you exercise:
· Create a plan and execute it. Consider exercise to be one of your top priorities.
· Set goals that you can accomplish.
· Exercise in the morning.
· Exercise with a buddy who knows of your diabetic condition. This is very important because under certain circumstances you may suffer a hypoglycemic episode. Also, your buddy can help you stay motivated and can deflect any excuses you come up with!
· Always have some candy with you in case you feel symptoms of hypoglycemia.
· Drink lots of fluids, before, during, and after exercising.
· If you have insulin-dependent diabetes, plan your exercise program along with your nutrition and insulin intake.

Those who have difficulty following the above recommendations should bear in mind that doing some exercise is better than doing nothing.
You can help control your diabetes by increasing your levels of physical activity in your day-to-day life. Little things, such as using the stairs instead of taking the elevator and parking your car farther away than usual, contribute to fulfilling many people's requirements.

* Dr. Lara-Pantin, a nutrition specialist, is Vice President of Product Development for DrTango, Inc.


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