Exercising with Diabetic Neuropathy

With the New Year fast approaching, let’s talk about everyone’s favorite thing: New Year’s resolutions. Everyone’s resolutions and goals are of course a little bit different, but we can wager that there are a few goals on everyone’s short list for 2019. Chief among these are usually saving more money, traveling more, and last but not least, exercising more frequently. This is one of those perennial resolutions that results in a tidal wave of gym-goers in January that slowly tapers down to a trickle by March.

Maybe this was your experience last year and your resolutions didn’t pan out well. But you’ve decided to embark on this January’s annual pilgrimage to the gyms, pools, and race tracks around you. We applaud your resolve and commitment. Taking control of your health is a great resolution for anyone, regardless of age or health.

However, this first step towards a healthier lifestyle can be a little complicated for those living with diabetic neuropathy. You know that an exercise regimen will do wonders for your health, but you don’t exactly know where to start. You also might be wondering what exercise you can do for your diabetes management.

“Plenty!” is the correct answer. The right exercise plan will reduce your blood sugar levels, improve nerve function, and heal your blood vessels. You’ll also see strengthened muscles, increased joint flexibility, improved sleep, and better mental health after starting and sticking to an exercise program. We really can’t overstate how effective exercise is for those living with diabetic neuropathy. But what types of exercise should you be doing? Well, we’ve got some recommendations on those as well.

Exercising with Diabetic Neuropathy


Everyone knows that running is good for them. You don’t need to be a sports scientist to recognize that getting the blood flowing is advantageous. However, as a podiatrist’s office, we need to give you some scientific considerations that will help drive the point home.

We don’t need to give you a bunch of medical journal jargon, but know that aerobic activity, like running, cycling, or playing a dynamic sport like basketball, increases blood vessel health. Regular physical activity like this will also decrease blood sugar levels, which will in turn improve nerve function and circulation in tandem. So going for a run every other day is a snowball effect that will greatly improve your diabetic neuropathy!

Now, realize that we aren’t saying you need to run a marathon to get the benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Even an hour walk around the neighborhood with your dog could be beneficial. What’s more important is that you’re getting regular, physical activity.

Consider swimming if running or biking aren’t your thing. A few hundred yards in the pool is a great option for those with diabetic neuropathy, as you not only receive the benefits of cardiovascular training, but your risk of those irksome cuts, scrapes, and bruises is significantly lower. Ultimately, this means you can train without worrying about a minor issue becoming a diabetic wound. (We’ll talk about this in greater detail in a bit.)

Regardless of which type of aerobic activity you decide to pursue, it’s worth noting that finding the right exercise for you is crucial. Don’t run if you HATE running or go swimming if you’re terrified of the water. We’ve found that the best workout plans are easy to stick to, partly because they’re FUN. If you love tennis, don’t decide to train for half marathon; just try to play a few more matches every couple of weeks or so. This is the best course of action to managing your diabetic management. Yes, proper exercise will help you manage your diabetic neuropathy, but it also can be a fun hobby as well.

We have a few more tips on aerobic activity to guide you along your way.

  • Use appropriate footwear. You’d be surprised how many people try to run in basketball shoes or play soccer without cleats. Use the correct footwear. This is not only good for your podiatric health, but it’ll also just makes you a better athlete for the activity you’re invested in.
  • Pay attention to cuts and scrapes. This is good health advice, but it’s especially pertinent to those with diabetic neuropathy. Your ability to heal yourself is slightly reduced by diabetes and you don’t want a small injury to evolve into that insidious and dangerous threat: the diabetic wound. What would be a simple injury for someone without diabetes is a grave danger to someone with diabetes. We applaud the decision to exercise more frequently, but please pay attention to the little scrapes and bumps you’ll inevitably endure while you’re active. This goes in tandem with our next point.
  • Have a daily diabetic foot check. It doesn’t need to be an arduous, extensive examination, but take the time once a day to look at your feet and make sure you haven’t suffered any cuts or scrapes during your workout. We suggest doing it at a time when it’s convenient to you and makes the most sense. If you’re hitting the gym more, take a minute or two right out of the shower or sauna to ensure that everything looks good on your feet.
  • Monitor your blood sugar. Check your sugar levels before you begin exercising and have a carbohydrate-laden snack on hand, in case you need it.

Incorporate Strength Training

This might not have been your first thought when you considered exercise. However, sugar is, after all, one of the body’s sources of fuel. Your muscles, therefore, are a huge avenue for depleting sugar, thus keeping your blood sugar levels low.

The right strength-training routine will also increase your balance and stability, although it’s important that this happens in the right way and the right pace. For dynamic movements like lunging or squatting, start without weight to work on your stabilizer muscles.

Going off of this, we generally recommend that you stick to exercises that require you to be seated when lifting heavy weight. Heavy squats or power cleans are not good ideas if diabetic neuropathy has impacted your balance and stability. Leg press, bench press, and curls are great ways to work your body without risking a tumble. Again, see our earlier note about working your body in the right way. There’s nothing wrong with performing lifts that challenge your stabilizer muscles. Just be sure to not load up too much weight on too quickly.

An added benefit of strength-training is that you’ll probably be HUNGRY afterwards. Contrary to what you might think, this is a great opportunity. You’ve worn your muscles out. They need lean protein and veggies, not simple sugars and fat. If you use your delayed-onset muscle soreness as a springboard to a diet filled with lean meats and salad, your diabetes management is on the right track!

Yoga and Mindful Exercises

We all know that stress is bad for our health, but it’s also bad for diabetes management. Working to lower your stress levels and blood pressure will be beneficial for your body’s diabetes management. Try your hand at yoga or meditation. Being soothed and relaxed is not only great for your blood pressure, which in turns affects your diabetes, but your overall mental health. While we always try to focus on the clinical aspects of diabetes and other conditions, we recognize that there’s a mental and emotional component to any disease. Taking the time to calm yourself via some hot yoga might be just the ticket.

This could even help your diet. A lot of individuals turn to comfort food to soothe their fears, which might make it difficult to follow the dietary restrictions we recommend for someone with diabetes. Practicing meditation and yoga might help you alleviate the stressors that cause poor diet choices.

Don’t think that yoga and similar exercises are simply for your mental though; a more strenuous yoga session will definitely get the blood flowing like a moderate run would and it will also give you an opportunity to improve your balance and stability in a safe space!

For more information on the diabetic foot care services we offer—or to request an appointment with our office—simply give us a call at (937) 435-7477 or contact us online today.

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