Exercise for diabetes and how to avoid hypoglycemia

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Physical exercise is a fundamental part of diabetes treatment, along with food control and medication use, which the person may or may not need. But, some care is needed for the practice of physical exercises to bring benefits and not harm to your health.

You need to think about monitoring blood glucose before, during and after physical activity, plan well for pre- and post-workout feeding and hydration, and sometimes even include a carbohydrate during practice.

With good knowledge and planning, you can practice physical exercises without fear of feeling sick with weakness, loss of coordination and even fainting, because of hypoglycemia or other complication.

See how to include physical exercises suitable for diabetes, avoiding complications such as hypoglycemia.

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Diabetes is characterized by increased blood glucose levels, either by lack of the hormone insulin (type 1 diabetes) or by resistance to this hormone (type 2 diabetes).

Physical exercises have a direct impact on blood glucose and, therefore, are considered a great treatment for those who have diabetes, leading, in many cases, to the reduction of the need for medications.

Physical exercises prevent certain complications, such as cardiovascular diseases, due to dyslipidemia, characterized by high levels of fat in the blood.

For people who have type 2 diabetes, physical exercises help muscle cells absorb glucose because they improve the sensitivity of cells to insulin and increase the action of this hormone.

Another factor that improves insulin sensitivity is weight loss resulting from regular physical exercise, especially the reduction of visceral fat,which is great, including, for the decrease in bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase in good cholesterol (HDL).

As physical activity improves blood circulation, blood arrives more easily on the hands and feet, decreasing the problem of cold hands and feet, common in diabetes.

Care in the practice of physical exercises

Before exercise

Before starting a fitness program at the gym or outdoors, consult with your doctor for an assessment of your overall physical condition, especially cardiovascular health.

If possible, seek the guidance of a nutritionist, for the preparation of a specific menu for you. In this consultation, communicate to the professional about the physical exercise program, so that pre- and post-workout snacks are included.

When enrolling in a gym or other training site, tell the physical education professional that you have diabetes, so that you stay tuned in case you feel unwell during practice.

Whether for a light walk outdoors or more elaborate exercises in a gym, always have a fast-absorbing carbohydrate in your hands, it can be a sweetheart, a fruit juice or something more specific that your nutritionist recommends.

Before you start your workout, check your blood glucose. The recommended glycemic level range to start physical activity, according to the Canadian Diabetes Society, is 110 mg/dl to 250 mg/dl.

Exercise intensity

In general, low intensity exercises (mild and moderate), which are those in which you can talk to someone while exercising, because it is not too panting, tend to decrease the level of blood glucose. Therefore, if your blood glucose is below 110 mg/dl, it is recommended to have a small carbohydrate snack half an hour before.

High intensity exercises, which are those that raise the heart rate very fast, cause the liver to release more glucose into the blood at the beginning of the activity. So if you have blood glucose above 250 mg/dl, it is recommended that you do not do physical activity, as you run the risk of further increasing your blood glucose level.

The best period for training is in the morning, after breakfast, or two hours after lunch. It is not recommended to train at night to avoid a hypoglycemia problem during sleep.

In addition to training schedule and pre-workout meals, you should pay reference to the duration of the action of the drug in the body, if you use insulin or other oral remedy that lower blood glucose levels.

In this case, it is necessary to organize the training schedule, so as not to coincide with the time of action of the medication, avoiding complications such as hypoglycemia.

During the exercise

During physical activity, you will need to pay close attention to your body’s reactions, especially if you are not in the habit of practicing physical exercises.

At first, it can be a little uncomfortable to keep monitoring the glycemic level, but it is necessary and, gradually, you will understand how your body reacts to physical exercises and the various conditions involved in practice.

To help you better understand their reactions and communicate to the health and physical education professionals who accompany you, pay attention to these points:

  • Have you been sick when practicing low- or high-intensity exercises?
  • Do you feel bad training at some specific time?
  • On warmer days, do you feel that exercising gets harder?
  • Did you notice any difference during training, depending on the foods consumed in previous meals?
  • Is there a muscle group in which you applied insulin and used it to exercise?

With regard to this last point, it is recommended not to inject insulin near the muscle groups that you are exercising in the training session because, if it requires too much of the muscles close to the application, the risk of hypoglycemia is increased. For example, if you are training lower limbs, it is not advisable to apply insulin to the thigh.

All these factors can impact your well-being during training, so recognizing what hurts you helps in reorganizing your planning, to make it as suitable as possible for your condition.

During practice, do not forget to drink plenty of water, to maintain the hydration of the body.

After exercise

After training, check for any wounds on your feet,as any bruising or infection can generate an ulcer when blood glucose is decompensated. This check should be visual, you can even use a mirror to facilitate the examination, because diabetes can leave your feet insensitive, causing you not to notice the presence of any injury or injury.

The post-workout meal is also quite important, because hypoglycemia can occur hours after training. The consumption of carbohydrates associated with fiber and protein helps prevent late hypoglycemia, as they make glucose absorption slower.

Finally, you may need an adjustment in the dose of insulin or other medication that you use to control blood glucose, as physical exercises end up having the same effect as the drugs in lowering blood sugar levels. Therefore, talk to your endocrinologist to assess if there is a need for adjustment in the dose of medications.

Types of physical exercises for diabetes

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Light and moderate

Light and moderate aerobic exercises can be practiced every day of the week, lasting 30 to 45 minutes of training, for example:

  • Walk: 30 minutes, light
  • Walk with the dog: 30 minutes, take
  • Bike ride: 30/45/60 minutes, light
  • Quick walk: 30/45 minutes, moderate
  • Dance: 60 minutes, moderate
  • Water aerobics: 50 minutes, moderate
  • Slow run: 30/45 minutes, moderate


High intensity aerobic exercises and resistance training (bodybuilding) can be practiced 3 times a week. The duration of high intensity aerobic exercises should be between 20 and 30 minutes and you can do 2 to 3 sets of 10 repetitions of each bodybuilding exercise.

Examples of high intensity physical exercises are:

  • Fast race
  • Spinning
  • Swimming
  • Jump (jumps)
  • High intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Collective games (football, volleyball, basketball)
  • Strength training

Do you practice any physical exercise to control diabetes? Which? Have you noticed improvement in blood glucose control after exercising regularly? Comment below!

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