Exercise and diabetes
Taking exercise on a regular basis has many potential benefits for people with diabetes. Becoming more physically active can:
- Reduce blood glucose levels.
- Reduce blood pressure.
- Lower the risk of heart disease.
- Relieve stress.
- Improve symptoms of depression.
- Help weight loss.
- Encourage flexibility in the joints and muscles, reducing risk of osteoporosis, back pain and osteoarthritis.
To gain from these potential health benefits, the recommended level of exercise required is at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on five days of each week. The 30 minutes can be broken up into shorter chunks of 10 minutes or more that are spread throughout the day, and the exercise can be in the form of common sporting pursuits like running, cycling or swimming, or more everyday activities like brisk walking.
Considerations for People With Diabetes
Physical activity has an effect on blood glucose, causing levels to decrease. There is a small risk of hypoglycaemia (excessively low blood glucose) occurring after exercise in people treated with insulin or sulphonylurea tablets. To manage this risk additional carbohydrate may be required before or during exercise, or doses of insulin or diabetes drugs reduced beforehand, or a combination of these two approaches.
Individual responses to taking exercise will vary so people with diabetes should monitor their glucose before and after exercise to determine the best strategy for them, as well as getting advice from the diabetes healthcare team. If glucose levels are high (for example, above 15 mmol/litre before exercise) or there are ketones in the urine, it is better to delay exercising until glucose levels are lower.
While exercising, carbohydrate-containing food or drinks that are rapidly converted into glucose (glucose tablets or sugary drinks) should be kept to hand to manage possible hypos. The effects of exercise on glucose persist for some time so it is important to remain vigilant to the risk of hypos over the 24-hour period following exercise. Extra food or reduced insulin doses may be necessary for some people after intensive exercise. There is a need for caution if drinking alcohol before or after exercise because of the risk of hypos.
People who have not exercised regularly for some time are advised to start slowly and choose an activity they are likely to enjoy. Joining a group may help sustain interest and the motivation to keep up with regular exercise. There are many sports facilities and groups in the Lambeth and Southwark area, some of which are free or available at low cost for local residents. People with diabetes may qualify for an exercise referral scheme, which is a structured exercise programme designed to help people with particular medical problems who may benefit from becoming more active. These usually require referral from the person’s GP. There is more information about local services via the links on the right of this page.