Move more. Eat well. That seems like a simple approach to staying fit and healthy.
But for someone living with diabetes, staying active while managing a restrictive diet can be a challenge, especially when the disease you’re trying to beat is making you feel bad.
The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five days a week. The trick is finding safe exercises that work for you and where you’re at in your health and physical fitness journey.
The certified personal trainers / performance coaches at Tidewater Physical Therapy’s Performance Center’s in Newport News, Gloucester and Suffolk and the physical therapists at clinics throughout southeastern and central Virginia can help design a personalized training plan to help diabetic patients reach their fitness goals.
You can safely bet that your path to better fitness as a diabetic patient will likely begin with some kind of low-impact cardio and strength training. But how often should you exercise and for how long? And what if you want to participate in sports or do a more strenuous activity like bicycling, swimming, running or hiking?
A physical therapist or personal trainer can help by assessing your current physical abilities, reviewing your medical history and medications, and then developing an individualized exercise plan that best meets your needs.
“We offer a consultative approach to training,” said Katie Allen, director of performance services for Tidewater Physical Therapy’s Performance Centers. “All programs are specifically designed to meet the needs of the particular client.”
And for diabetic patients, aerobic and strength workouts are a must.
What kind of exercise a patient may do and for how long depends on a variety of factors, including their general health, physical capabilities, nutritional and exercise habits and pre-existing injuries. The goal is to develop safe and effective exercise programs that motive patients and get results.
Physical fitness is a key component to helping patients manage diabetes, but only if it’s done safely. For patients whose diabetes isn’t managed well, complications such as low blood flow to the legs can cause cramping or skin breakdown (ulcers) on the legs or feet, making a workout difficult and sometimes dangerous. Other complications such as retinopathy, peripheral neuropathy or numbness in the hands or feet, can also become a barrier to exercising.
“These problems can lead to difficulty with daily activities, limit your ability to exercise, and also harm your overall health,” according to the American Physical Therapy Association.
But that’s when a physical therapist can help by developing therapeutic or modified exercises that allow a patient to get an effective workout without risking injury.
A physical therapist can also teach patients techniques to decrease cramping during a walk, ways to improve their gait and tips to protect their feet if they’ve lost sensation. And patients can learn how to deal with pain and balance issues related to their diabetes.
Benefits and Bonuses
Beyond the obvious point that exercise is good for you, regular activity for diabetic patients can make a big difference.
“Exercise causes your cells to become more sensitive to insulin, thus making it more effective,” Allen said. “In addition, during exercise your body uses alternative methods to clear glucose from your system which does not rely on insulin.”
That means patients who workout can process insulin better and clear more glucose from their bodies. The only catch, Allen said, is diabetic patients, especially those with Type 1 diabetes, need to be prepared for hypoglycemia, or a dip in blood sugar, while they’re feeling the burn.
Trainers at the Performance Center regularly ask clients how they’re feeling, encourage them to check their blood sugar during the workout and keep sports drinks on hand in case a client is suffering from low blood sugar.
But fear not, the reward is much greater than the risk! Personal trainers focus on giving diabetic clients a workout that minimizes injury, while aiming to improve overall health.
“Participating in exercise programs like those offered at Tidewater Performance will not only help diabetic clients improve their blood glucose levels, it will reduce their risk of heart disease, aid in stress relief, improve circulation, regulate blood pressure and strengthen muscles and bones,” Allen said.
That’s not just a benefit, that’s a bonus.