Don’t let diabetes get in your way of fitness. Here are some tips on how to stay active even if you are a diabetic.

Diabetes mellitus has raced ahead as one of the most prominent contenders for “Disease of the 21st century”.  Diabetes Type 2, the more common kind, refers to a disease that usually makes its appearance after the age of 40. Poor lifestyle habits like sedentary living, obesity, and unhealthy food patterns have been found to be precursors to Diabetes type 2. There is a genetic component. This does not mean, however, that you remain conveniently philosophical if you have a family history.  Actively preventing onset of the disease by keeping one’s weight in control and partaking in vigorous daily physical exercise, building muscle and burning calories is a more pro-active approach to adopt towards prevention.  

The main complications of Diabetes arise as a direct result of poor blood sugar control that has various implications on the kidneys, eyes, skin and nerves. 

Management  

Lifestyle and dietary modifications need to be made to optimise treatment.

It is “no sugar” from now on. Add that to a list that includes no refined carbs like refined flour, starchy vegetables, fruit juices, fruits like mangoes, custard apples and dates, fried food, sauces and salad dressings with hidden sugars (read the labels) and alcohol. 

While on your medication, be attentive to the timings of your meals. Long periods of hunger and binge eating result in wildly fluctuating blood sugars. Every meal has to contain a combination of a complex carb and protein to slow the absorption of glucose.  

Depending totally on medication to control your diabetic condition is, at best, a pretty senseless strategy. Including regular exercise not only burns calories to keep your weight in check and so on, but also has been found to control, modify and even slow down the progression of the disease and its outcome. Besides, the obvious benefits of exercise like weight loss, stronger bones and muscles, more flexibility, better mood and higher self esteem apply for a diabetic as much as any body else and improve the overall quality of life.   

What kind of exercise?  

Include Aerobic activity, Strength training and Flexibility to your routine.  

Aerobic activities like walking, running, cycling burn calories and utilise blood glucose for energy. Depending on your body weight and weight loss goals, you can exercise aerobically for 30-60 minutes everyday.  

Intensity: A novice can begin at a 50 per cent intensity. This would mean a level at which you are comfortable having a conversation while exercising. With increasing fitness levels however, one needs to increase intensity and challenge oneself to a superior plane.  

Strength training by using weights, machines and resistance bands has been found to increase muscle mass and decrease fat percentage, which is crucial to better blood glucose control. Muscle being active tissue (unlike fat), improves calorie burn and the basal metabolism of the body. Training with weights encourages the movement of glucose into the muscles and improves sensitivity to insulin. This may mean a decrease in dosage of insulin (if you are taking it) or other diabetic medication over time. Weight training 3-4 times a week is adequate to show improvement in strength and quality of muscle.  

Stretching is an integral part of any routine. Stretching everyday, or incorporating a modality like Yoga to your routine will keep you agile and prevent aches and pains.  

Work on your balance. Balance and strength training reduce ones likelihood of falls and injury, which could prove dangerous, particularly for a diabetic whose healing is impaired 

What special precautions does a diabetic need to take while exercising? 

Get a medical clearance from your doctor.

Have regular health checks to monitor the disease.

Confer with a fitness consultant familiar with your disease to plan and supervise your routine for you.

Check your blood sugar level before and after exercising initially until you get familiar with your activity and the way your body responds to your workout.

Check your feet for blisters or sores before and after exercising. There is no such thing as “just a little blister” for a diabetic. That “little” blister could become a full blown sore that can tail spin into an unmanageable infection

Wear proper shoes and socks. It is worth investing in superior quality gear to train. Good supportive shoes will reduce the incidence of accidents and skin chaffing.

Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercising. Plain water is fine.

Always warm up before exercising and cool down afterward.

Have a snack or fruit juice handy in case your blood sugar levels drop too low.

Familiarise yourself with the symptoms of low blood sugar and recognize them at the earliest.

It is essential to maintain meticulous care of feet, teeth, skin to prevent infection and injury. Stay physically active during the day. A sedentary lifestyle will compound the problems of your disease and your weight. Blood sugar control is more difficult when an individual is overweight.  

Don’t let diabetes get in your way of fitness. Some individuals, for fear of “going hypo”, avoid exercise altogether.  However, this happens more often in insulin dependent, Type 1 diabetics. If you are cautious and aware of the precautions while exercising, there is no reason for you not to exercise regularly to lead a better quality life, experience all the positive spin offs of regular exercise. Being fit helps you gain some semblance of control over this disease and your life in general.

Symptoms of low blood sugar – known as “going hypo”-

Dizziness or a general feeling of lightheadedness

Difficulty in focusing even slurring of speech

Nervousness and tremors

Sweating and weakness

Intense hunger

Palpitations.

May lead to loss of consciousness

Dr. Sheela Nambiar M.D, is a Obstetrician/Gynaecologist, Fitness and Lifestyle Consultant NAFC (USA) and Director, TFL Fitness Studio, Chennai. E-mail drsheela@tfl-inc.com

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