March 3, 2021

Diabetes and Exercise: Small Changes Can Make A Big Difference

Haven’t been exercising much lately? Don’t worry - we’ve put together some simple tips you can follow to start working towards improved health.

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Home / Living with Diabetes / Diabetes and Exercise: Small Changes Can Make A Big Difference

If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, one of the best things you can do for yourself is getting exercise. By working out on a regular basis, you can lose weight and make managing your diabetes easier. And that’s just the start of the health benefits that exercise can bring – with a strong workout routine, you can start seeing lower blood glucose levels, increased insulin sensitivity, and much more. 

Of course, starting an exercise plan (and sticking to it) is easier said than done. If you’ve been active in the past but aren’t nowadays, or if you’ve never had an active lifestyle, making this change could sound intimidating – or even impossible. Fortunately, there’s good news: You can make things simpler for yourself by easing into your new routine. In this article, we’ll take a look at small lifestyle changes that can have a big impact on your health. 

Try a New Workout Routine: It’s A Stretch – But You Can Do It 

When you have diabetes, you should talk to your healthcare provider before woman and man stretching starting a new exercise regimen. They’ll be able to let you know about anything you should keep in mind and any precautions you should take. It may feel like an inconvenience, but it’s important to make sure you’re starting off on the right foot. 

Once that’s taken care of, it’s time to get going on your new workout routine. You can start small by focusing on passive stretching – and though this may not sound like much, it can actually have a noticeable effect on your well-being. According to The Journal of Physiology, stretching regularly for three months can result in improved blood flow throughout the body. That, in turn, can help lower peoples’ risk of developing certain diseases (including diabetes) and could even help treat these conditions. 

Start Small: 3 Passive Stretches to Try 

Not sure how to stretch properly? Read on to learn step-by-step instructions for a few simple passive stretches. (Before you get started, make sure you’ve got a partner who can help you out.) 

Ankle Stretch 

  • Start by lying on your back. Your arms should be laying at your sides, and your legs should be straight. 
  • Then, ask your partner to hold your right ankle and pull it gently, pushing the toes back as they do so. 
  • Focus on stretching your ankle, calf, knee, and thigh muscles, and hold this stretch for 30 seconds. Then, you can relax. 
  • Repeat the stretch with the left ankle and continue until you’ve done this stretch three times on each ankle. 

Hamstring Stretch 

  • Lie on your back, holding your arms at your sides and your legs straight. 
  • Have your partner hold the ankle on your right leg, supporting the knee with their other hand. 
  • Lift your entire right leg from your ankle, ensuring your knee stays locked until your leg is 90 degrees from the floor. Hold that position for 30 seconds. 
  • Relax and return to your starting position. 
  • Repeat the stretch with your left leg, and keep going until you’ve stretched each leg three times. 

Chest Opener 

  • Sit straight up, with your legs stretched out in front of your body. (For this stretch, your partner will sit behind you; their right knee should be bent on the floor, with their left knee to ankle leaning against your back to provide support.) 
  • Raise your arms up high. Your partner will hold them up at your shoulder level before pulling them back gently. 
  • Focus on stretching the muscles in your upper back, shoulders, chest, and arms for 30 seconds. Then, relax. 
  • Do this stretch another five times. 

Your (Literal) Next Steps: Start Incorporating Aerobic Exercises 

Once you’re comfortable with stretching, you can branch out into more active exercise. Since heartsenior-walkers-practicing-healthy-lifestyle-habits-for-cardivascular-health health is especially important for people with diabetes, why not begin by focusing on cardiovascular/aerobic exercise? This form of exercise focuses on getting your blood pumping by working large muscle groups over time. 

One of the simplest ways to start getting aerobic exercise is by going out for a walk! A brisk walk is considered “moderate” exercise, and the American Diabetes Association encourages people with diabetes to get 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise five or more days each week. Later on, you can experiment with more vigorous aerobic exercises – these include jogging, swimming, cycling, and many other activities. 

Aerobic exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s not the only form of physical activity you should take seriously. You’ll also want to start doing exercises that focus on building strength and flexibility. Great ways to get strength training include calisthenics, handheld weights, and resistance bands; meanwhile, you can improve your flexibility by pursuing Pilates, yoga, or tai chi. 

Go The Extra Mile By Maintaining an Active Lifestyle  

An exercise routine is irreplaceable, but it’s not the only way to get physical activity throughout the day. There are all sorts of simple things you can do to stay active – and have fun in the process. 

At Work 

  • When you’re heading to work, consider walking or biking if you can. 
  • If you do take a car, park further away from the office than you would normally. 
  • Take the stairs, not the elevator! 
  • Look into replacing your desk chair with an exercise ball – this can help you improve your core strength. 
  • Get a quick walk in during your lunch break. 

At Home 

  • Plant and take care of a garden! You’ll get valuable fresh air – and get moving at the same time. 
  • Have an at-home dance party – turn on music you enjoy and get into the rhythm.
  • While watching TV, do simple exercises like jumping jacks and push-ups during commercial breaks. 
  • Keep up on outdoor chores, like shoveling snow and raking leaves. 
  • Go for a family walk or bike ride. 

A Call To Action 

If the thought of changing your lifestyle and starting an exercise routine feels overwhelming to you, you’re far from alone. However, you have the power to make positive changes in your life – all you have to do is follow these tips and take things one day at a time! 

Looking for more exercise tips that could help you manage your diabetes? Check out the “Diet & Fitness” section of our website. 

Shirley DeLeon Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist

Medical Review by Shirley DeLeon, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

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