Diabetes: Exercise safety tips to know

Before getting started on a new fitness routine, do consider the following safety precautions for diabetes patients.

Talk to your doctor and dietician

Check with your healthcare professionals before starting on a new exercise programme. You should do the same when you make significant changes to your workout habits too.

People with diabetes may also be at increased risk of heart disease, especially those who haven't been exercising regularly1. Your healthcare team will be able to provide special guidelines for you to follow, to minimise the risk of heart problems.

Changes to a diabetes care plan may be needed to accommodate the exercise, such as taking fewer pills, through adjusting your insulin dosage or meal plans.

Only make changes to your medications and other diabetes care after consulting your healthcare team. These professionals will determine if changes in oral medicine or insulin dose are needed and whether your daily food intake needs to be adjusted.

Keep a logbook

For people with diabetes, checking blood sugar levels before exercise is the most essential step in an exercise routine2. During the first three weeks of a new exercise routine, it is recommended that you monitor blood glucose more frequently than normal.

Keep a log of glucose levels and share the changes with your healthcare team. To ensure that a diabetes logbook will provide the physician with enough information, record your blood sugar levels, insulin doses, blood-glucose-lowering medications, dosage frequency, stressful periods and your dietary habits. All of these factors give the healthcare team a complete picture of how food and diabetes medications affect your blood sugar levels.

Lower blood sugar levels may occur as quickly as two days after beginning a new exercise plan, especially if you exercise vigorously. This is one of the benefits of exercise. At the same time, do watch out for symptoms of low blood sugar3, which is also called hypoglycaemia. These signs include shakiness, dizziness, sweating, hunger, headache, pale skin colour, sudden behaviour changes, clumsy or jerky movements, confusion, and tingling sensations around the mouth.

Foot examination

People with diabetes often experience slow wound healing. If wounds are found on the feet, exercise should be temporarily stopped or modified.

Wearing socks and shoes that fit properly help prevent these types of wounds. People diagnosed with diabetes are more prone to foot-related problems4, so extra care should always be taken when it comes to your footwear.

Before you start exercising, make sure you’re wearing shoes that fit well, so that you’re less likely to injure yourself while exercising. Do pick the right shoes appropriate for the activity too.

When diabetes-related nerve damage affects the feet, it is difficult to feel blisters or sores. People with neuropathy may be advised to choose activities less likely to cause blisters, such as walking, cycling, or swimming, instead of running or jogging.

Prep food and drinks

Carry appropriate food, drink, or other carbohydrate sources to replenish your sugar levels if necessary. For instance, you could carry fruit juice, bananas, snack crackers or a sports drink. Do stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise.

1Health Promotion Board of Singapore. Retrieved on Aug 31, 2015 from: http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/dandc-article/680.

2WebMd. Retrieved on Aug 31, 2015 from: http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/guide/exercise-guidelines.

3WebMd. Retrieved on Aug 31, 2015 from: http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/features/diabetes-symptoms-to-never-ignore.

4Health Promotion Board of Singapore. Retrieved on Aug 31, 2015 from: http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/dandc-article/680.