Diabetes News & Articles

How does exercise affect blood sugar levels?

The effect of physical activity on blood glucose levels will vary between individuals and will also depend on the exercise type. Checking your blood glucose levels while exercising will allow you to gain a better understanding of how each activity can affect them.

  • Avoiding hypos

Before exercise, your blood sugar levels should ideally be above 7mmol/l; if they are not, you may need to consider eating some additional carbohydrate. Good post-workout snacks include malt loaf, bananas and yoghurt. However, the type and amount of food required will depend on exercise duration and intensity, how hungry you are, when you last ate and what is going on with your blood glucose levels at the time.

It is essential to always have your hypo treatment on hand along with your medical ID. If you are exercising by yourself, make sure that someone is aware of where you are and your estimated time of arrival back. If it is a group exercise, then be sure that they can recognise the signs of a hypo and know how to treat it. For information on this, please contact your local diabetes team.

  • Avoiding high blood sugar levels

If your blood glucose levels are above 13mmol/l then physical exercise may actually increase those levels further. If this does occur, you may need to consider an insulin correction dose, but only after you have spoken to your local diabetes team on how to do this.

The convenience of walking

With modern life becoming more and more hectic, it is becoming increasingly difficult to fit the recommended amount of physical activity into each day. Walking provides an easy and convenient alternative way to introduce exercise into your routine. Additionally, findings from several studies have shown that a 30-minute walk post-meal can significantly decrease postprandial glucose spikes.

By making the following simple changes to your lifestyle, you can easily increase the amount of walking you do:

  • Park your car further away from the shops
  • For journeys that are in walking distance, avoid using your car or public transport
  • Where available, use stairs instead of an elevator or lift
  • Get off of public transport a stop before you are supposed to
  • During work hours, take a break from your computer for a short stroll every hour
  • Walk after meals, especially if your post-meal glucose levels are consistently high
  • Being on the phone is a great opportunity to walk around
  • During TV adverts take a walk, or use walking as a replacement for watching TV
  • Your new family activity could become weekend walks
  • Make a conscious effort to visit your local parks

Benefits of walking

  • You can walk at anytime, anywhere, completely free
  • A brisk walk will help increase stamina, reduce surplus calories and create a healthier heart
  • Physical activity will decrease blood sugar levels as your muscles use glucose during exercise
  • It may aid in the effective use of insulin in the body
  • Walking is suitable for all physical abilities as it is easy on joints
  • Walking can ease the pressures of stress

Look after you feet

Whilst safety isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when walking is considered, for someone living with diabetes, certain things are worth bearing in mind before hitting the streets. People with diabetes should regularly check their feet for any noticeable changes. Post-walk checks should be habitual in case of possible damage like cuts or blisters.

If you have a history of foot problems then please contact your local diabetes team prior to becoming a serious walker. As a rule of thumb, always make sure that you are wearing suitable footwear and that your socks do not rub.

Keep it up!

If you do decide that walking, or exercise in general, is a good hobby for you then we highly recommend sticking to it! Hopefully you can make time to pound the pavements and use walking as an effective tool in helping manage your blood glucose levels.

Whilst we endeavour to offer some sage advice, we here at GlucoMen understand that everyone is an individual and what may affect one person in one way, will affect someone else in a completely different way. From managing your medication, checking your feet, or simply knowing what the best foods to consume are, it is always best to contact your healthcare professional for definitive answers.

Elliot Cryne


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