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Saturday, March 2, 2024

What is your Workout Ritual? A Diabetics Perspective on Exercise

What is your exercise or workout ritual? As an insulin dependant Type 2 diabetic, exercise has become a critical component of managing my diabetes and Crohn’s disease.  I run, hike, cycle, mountain bike, and walk to help maintain a healthy lifestyle and manage chronic illness.  How do you help manage your diabetes?  As a diabetic, what is your workout ritual?

WARNING: Speak to your health care professional before starting any exercise program, including how to reduce the risk of low blood sugar during and after exercise

Exercise is a critical component to a healthy lifestyle

Exercise is a critical component to a healthy lifestyle, even more so as a Type 2 diabetic. Regular exercise has special advantages if you have diabetes. Regular physical activity improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin and helps manage your blood sugar levels (1).

What is considered exercise?

We can look at exercise as a form of physical activity that is done at enough intensity to improve your fitness. Resistance training, brisk walking, cycling, and jogging are examples of exercise. As exercise is more challenging than just accumulating physical activity through your day, it often needs some planning, a certain level of ability, and a little more effort.

The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends that if you’re living with diabetes regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to lower your blood sugar. For Type 2 diabetics, increased physical activity can work just as effectively as some medications, with fewer side effects. (2)

Some of the traditional benefits of exercise include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better control of weight
  • Increased level of good cholesterol (HDL)
  • Leaner, stronger muscles
  • Stronger bones
  • More energy
  • Improved mood
  • Better sleep
  • Stress management

How much exercise should we aim for?

Strive to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week (e.g. 30 minutes, five days a week) and resistance exercises (like lifting weights) two to three times a week.  If the thought of finding 30 minutes of exercise too difficult, you can break up the exercise into shorter periods, say 10 minutes here and there, aiming for a minimum of 30 minutes at the end of the day. 

What is my workout ritual?

How we manage the energy needs of exercise different for everyone, as diabetics we are not an exception.  Long before I was diagnosed as a diabetic, I was well aware of the risks of severe hypoglycemia, as my body had troubles managing my glucose during high-intensity exercise.  It was a common occurrence, whether at the gym lifting weights, or doing a cross-fit class, that I would experience low to moderate hypoglycemia, and would need to be assisted by my trainer or workout partner with some juice, elevating my feet, and me fighting maintain consciousness as I fought through a hypoglycemic occurrence.

What is hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is the condition when your blood glucose (sugar) levels are too low.  Mild to moderate Hypoglycemia can lead to sides effects such as Shakiness, Dizziness, Sweating, or confusion, progressing to severe hypoglycemia which could include clumsiness or jerky movements, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, inability to eat or drink, convulsions or seizures, or unconsciousness. Read here for a full list of the warning signs and symptoms.

Managing the Rewards of Exercise and the Risks of Hyperglycemia

Those that read my blog know that I have used exercise as a tool to not only maintain a healthy body but as equally as important, a healthy and positive attitude towards managing life and not one, but two chronic illnesses (diabetes and Crohn’s disease).  To read more about my struggles, check out “Drawing A Short Straw In Life: Fighting Back Against Chronic Disease” and how I used my running to battle chronic illness.

Senior Citizen Exercising with Bands Image by Anna Shvets from Pexels
Senior Citizen Exercising with Bands Image by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Exercise is hard, but you can do it too

Don’t get me wrong – exercise is hard.  It takes time, motivation, progression through injury, good weather, and bad.  However, huge personal milestones and successes?  How many people do you know that can say they have run 21.1KM (13.1 miles) or jump on their bicycle a Saturday morning and ride 75KM (46 miles) just to justify eating a butter tart at the halfway point? 

As I opened up today, I run, hike, cycle, mountain bike, and walk to maintain my mind and body.  Cross fit on the other hand – I have not been as successful.  However, what works for me, may not work for you and vice-versa. 

What is even more important to remember, I didn’t start out running 21KM.  1 KM, turned to 2 KM, then 5 KM, and so on. Cycling, or any sport for that matter, starts very much the same. The biggest secret is simply, just start!

Starting to exercise can be as simple as going for a walk

Make a commitment to yourself to start exercising.  It is as simple as that.  if you run for 1 minute and do it regularly, you “are a runner”.  It is as simple as that. 

Exercise is not about winning medals or meeting some predetermined finish line, it is about doing something for ourselves and building a habit that improves our lives in countless ways. 

In addition to walking, running, or cycling, one of my favourite resources for beginners to exercise is the Canadian Diabetes Association video library that was pointed out to me by my local diabetes education clinic.  The websites video library has great videos exercises you can do at home with little or no equipment and has exercises that may be suitable for people of all ages, including seniors with Type 2 Diabetes:

As a diabetic, listening to my body is an important part of my Exercise Tool-Kit and my work-out ritual

As I noted earlier, hyperglycemia is a concern for me when I exercise.  Although I have managed this concern through the choice of exercise I participate in, I ensure that I plan for the worst-case scenario of my blood sugar dropping unexpectedly during exercise.

Me experiencing moderate Hypoglycemia after exercise
Me experiencing moderate Hypoglycemia after exercise

This includes always carrying my exercise nutrition, either in my cycling jersey, my running belt, or my hydration backpack, at the treadmill or beside my indoor cycling training, and following my diabetic friendly exercise rules:

Tips to help exercise as a diabetic

  • Listen to my body, not every workout will be the same.  Know my limits
  • Ensure that I am always well hydrated, even more so during our summer months
  • Continue to hydrate with a sugar-free electrolyte while I exercise
  • Carry a fast-acting carbohydrate with you in case you need to treat low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), e.g. glucose tablets or exercise gels
  • Monitor my blood sugar before, during and many hours after my activity to see how it affects your blood sugar levels. My CGM is a great help here as I no longer need to worry about finger tests
  • When possible, I exercise with a workout buddy that can assist in the case of injury, hypoglycemia, or administer my Baqsimi nasal glucagon in a severe hypoglycemia incident
  • If I am cycling or running alone, use an incident detection device such as my Garmin Edge Cycling Computer or Garmin Forerunner watch to automatically notify friends or family if I need assistance

Comment below on what is your exercise ritual?


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Mark Hanlon


Mark is an avid photographer, Starbucks addict, motivated cyclist, struggling runner, and rocking single parent living outside of Toronto, Ontario. Living with two chronic ilnesses, Crohn’s Disease and Diabetes, life for this Transportation Planner and Registered Professional Planner (RPP) can be an interesting mix.