Can you advise on an exercise programme for a diabetic man aged 59? He is overweight (20st) and suffers from spondylitis in his neck and arthritis in his lower back. He can walk quite well but gets breathless easily. He would like to feel fitter but is unsure where to start.
Diabetics are much more likely than average to be overweight and at risk of heart disease and stroke. So regular exercise needs to become a life-long habit and the sooner you start, the better.
Not only will exercise help you to lose weight, it will also help keep some of the more unpleasant complications of diabetes at bay, including high blood pressure, furred-up arteries and fluctuations in your blood sugar levels which over time can cause serious damage to your body.
All extra activity will help, but I suggest you take a serious and methodical approach to getting your weight down and keeping more fit and active. You must get clearance from your GP or diabetes support team to start an exercise programme; then seek a qualified instructor at your local gym or through a GP exercise referral scheme, to get you started safely. At the same time, talk to your dietician about a diet /good eating régime, so that you are attacking your weight problem from both angles (fewer calories, more activity).
Because of the serious nature of diabetes, pay special attention to the following:
- regular blood sugar monitoring is essential, before and for up to two days after each exercise session
- have your feet checked regularly, make sure shoes and socks are comfortable, and deal with blisters or other foot problems without delay
- even though you may be “dieting”, you will need to add a little extra carbohydrate at certain times so your body can cope with the demands of exercise. Your instructor or diabetes care team can advise on the timing and which snacks are best
- certain times of day will be better or worse for exercise, depending on your medications and blood sugar levels
- you may need to change your insulin injection site – again, your care team can advise.
Begin your programme gently and don’t expect instant miracles. With your neck and back problems, your best activities may be cycling in the gym and/or swimming (or walking in the water) to start with, but try gradually to add in some brisk walking. Build up to 40 minutes of daily sessions such as these.
Don’t be too alarmed about breathlessness. As your heart and lungs get stronger, your breathing will improve – it is very normal for unfit people to be breathless when you start exercising. If you stick at it, you will certainly feel the benefits within a couple of months.
Working with weights (not too heavy at first – get expert supervision) in the gym is another good way of burning fat, as well as making you feel and look better! For excellent advice on exercise and diet, visit Diabetes UK.