Benefits of physical activity

The video below provides a good introduction to the importance of exercising with diabetes. 

To download a transcript for this video please click here.

Almost everyone benefits from exercise, and if you have type 1 diabetes there are some additional ways that maintaining an active lifestyle will be good for you: 

  • Exercise can help improve your blood glucose control and if you stick at it, it can bring your HbA1c down. 
  • Exercise can increase how sensitive your body is to insulin, and in time might mean that you need less insulin.  
  • When you exercise you burn through the available glucose in your bloodstream, lowering your blood glucose level  
  • Exercise can help control your weight. 
  • In the long-term, exercise can reduce your risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease or high blood pressure. 
  • Exercise can make you feel better and happier. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which work with your brain to elevate your mood and minimise pain. Many people who exercise regularly talk of the ‘natural high’ they get from it. The hard part is to actually get out and do it in the first place! 

National recommendations 

Adults should aim to get 150 minutes of weekly physical activity. This equates to around 30 minutes of moderate activity, or 15 minutes of vigorous activity, five days a week. 

If you are just starting out the Public Health England Active 10 App could be useful – this encourages you to look for 10 minute slots where you can do moderate activity and to build up to do and maintain the full 30 minutes per day or more

What is moderate activity? 

You need to move quickly enough to raise your heart rate, breathe faster but you’re still able to talk. Activities like walking quickly, cycling on a flat surface or a leisurely swim would fall into this category. 

What is vigorous activity? 

Your breathing is hard and fast; your heart rate is much faster and you have difficulty talking. This includes activities such as running, cycling fast or up hills, or fast swimming. 

You will also want to include activities that will build up your muscle strength at least two days a week. This doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym, activities such as gardening, carrying shopping or yoga also count towards this. 

Have you exercised in the past? 

If you’ve exercised before, and just let it slip, have a think about how you managed then. Did you have any specific problems or were your blood glucose levels fine? 

What type of exercise do you want to start? 

Running, gym, cycling, walking, fitness classes, swimming? These can all have different effects on your blood glucose and you may need to try more than one type of exercise to find out what works best for you. 

What are your goals? 

Think about what your overall aim is? To lose weight? Improve your blood glucose? Feel generally better? Take steps towards long-term health? It’s good to have a long-term goal as this will keep you focused. Your goals might change as you get fitter, so be sure to review them regularly. 

Do you have any worries or concerns about exercising when you have diabetes? 

It is useful to note these down and discuss them with your diabetes care team. Talking through any issues will give you a better understanding of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle when you have diabetes. 

What adjustments will you have to make to your insulin or food intake? 

You will have already read about how exercise uses up glucose, and you may need to adjust your insulin or food intake accordingly. Again, note down all of your thoughts about this issue and discuss with your diabetes care team if you have any doubts at all. 

Do you have any problems with your eyes or feet? 

If you have had problems with your feet (numbness, pins and needles, pain, any sores), it’s all the more important that your shoes fit properly and that you make sure exercise will not do more harm than good. 

 If you have retinopathy (changes to the blood vessels in your eyes) you need to check to talk to your diabetes care team and make sure it’s safe to start exercising. This is because your blood pressure can go up when you exercise strenuously, and this can sometimes worsen retinopathy. 

Here is a record sheet to complete which might be handy to look back on once you’ve started exercising. 

Remember: if you are unsure or worried about starting exercise, your diabetes care team will be happy to give you all the information and support you need. 

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