The Diabetic Guide To Working Out
My name is Christel and I write the TheFitBlog.com together with my husband Tobias. I’m a blogger, certified personal trainer, bikini fitness competitor, and fitness model. I’ve been living with type 1 diabetes since 1997 and at an early stage decided that it wasn’t going to slow me down. TheFitBlog.com is dedicated to demonstrating that it’s possible to live a fit healthy life with diabetes and features fitness routines, yummy healthy food, and articles about diabetes. I also train people with and without diabetes from across the globe, online and in person, and support them in meeting their fitness goals. You can follow me on TheFitBlog, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest or email me directly at Christel@Thefitblog.com.
The Diabetic’s Guide To Working Out
If you live with diabetes, you have probably been told more times than you care to count how important aerobic training (walking, running, etc.) is for your health. However, a lot of people with diabetes, who I meet through my job as a personal trainer, don’t realize that resistance training (lifting weights) can also be a huge help with regulating their blood glucose and weight.
The benefits of resistance training for diabetes management
Resistance training is good for everyone, but we diabetics get a few extra benefits from lifting weights. By combining resistance training, a little cardio, and proper nutrition, I have achieved a much more stable blood sugar, an A1C I can be proud of, and a relatively low daily insulin need.
While cardiovascular exercise is great for burning calories and regulating blood glucose in the short term, it doesn’t help you build much lean muscle mass, which permanently raises your metabolism, and raising your metabolism is really the name of the game when it comes to long-term blood glucose (and weight) management.
Not only does muscle burn more calories than fat (so the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn, even when doing nothing!), but it also significantly improves insulin sensitivity. This means, that as you build muscle mass, you will most likely see a reduction in your insulin needs.
When you need less insulin, it also becomes much easier to manage stable blood sugars. If you then combine this stability with a healthy, low glycemic diet, you have a winner when it comes to your diabetes management.
I always recommend that my clients start building muscle by spending most of their energy doing resistance training, while only doing a moderate amount of traditional cardiovascular exercises. Depending on the person and his or her goals, that might mean two to three 1-hour resistance training sessions per week, while only doing cardiovascular exercises for 20-30 minutes, twice per week.
Please note that I am not saying “skip the cardio”. You absolutely should get your heart rate up a few times per week to maintain your overall health. What I am saying is that you can get a better return on the time you spend in the gym if you also do resistance training!
3 step guide to getting started
So how do you successfully and safely start working out as an insulin dependent diabetic? Below are the top 3 steps I find essential in order to successfully exercise with diabetes. They are based on my own experience as a diabetic and personal trainer and the key is knowledge. When you learn how your body (and your blood sugar) reacts during different types of exercise and diet, you’ll have a much easier time managing your diabetes when working out
- Start tracking workouts, blood sugars, insulin, diet, etc.– The goal is to identify trends (like repeatedly high or low sugars during a certain workout) so that you can manage them by making proactive insulin adjustment, rather than being reactive (if you’re not self-managed talk to your medical team about how to make adjustment to your care)
- Stick with the same routine and diet for the first 3-4 weeks– The fewer variables, the easier it will be to see trends
- Learn and make changes – Spend some time reading through your journal to spot patterns and understand how your body react to different types of exercise and food. If something isn’t working (like if you often have to stop your workouts because of low blood sugar), change ONE variable at a time to see if that helps. This could be changing what you eat before the workout or how much insulin you take
Finally, find the exercise routine that makes you happy and feels like a game. Find something that makes you want to come back and do it again so that it becomes a positive part of your life and not a chore. Exercising and improving your health is a privilege, not a punishment…
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. My advice is based on my own experiences. Remember to always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any nutrition or exercise program.