Why “Green Exercise” is Good for People with Diabetes
If you have diabetes, you know that regular physical activity is good for your health overall and can help prevent diabetes problems. Specifically, physical activity helps your blood sugar stay in your target range by improving the way your body absorbs insulin and by helping you attain and maintain a healthy weight. Regular physical activity also helps keep blood pressure under control—a problem for many people with diabetes—and cholesterol and triglycerides on target.
Engaging in regular physical activity such as walking or biking is helpful no matter where you do it. But a growing body of research suggests that “green exercise” is best. For example, one study showed that just five minutes of exercise in a green nature setting such as a park or garden can boost mood and self-esteem, both of which can motivate you to continue exercising and maintain a healthier lifestyle.
While a number of studies demonstrate the benefits of green exercise for adults, a recent study shows that children benefit from green exercise, as well—in this case, by lowering blood pressure to a healthy level. Although there’s no research on this yet, it’s possible that encouraging kids to get active might help curb the rising incidence of type-2 diabetes among young people.
Green Exercise Options
Walking, biking or swimming are often recommended as ways of getting started. Hiking, running, tennis, baseball, football are also great outdoor options. Although the “green” may be covered by snow in winter, exercising in a park or other normally green environment still keeps you close to nature—and that alone is beneficial, particularly if you’re older.
The American Diabetes Association offers a full-body workout you can do using a park bench. And the Joslin Diabetes Center, a nonprofit research center associated with Harvard Medical School, has an excellent resource page with information and exercises for people with diabetes of all ages. Of note, the page includes links to videos on outdoor exercises for legs and a separate one for arms.
The “Feet” Factor
No matter what activity you choose, it’s especially important to take care of your feet. You’ll feel better when you move, and you’ll help prevent foot problems, especially if you have neuropathy/numbness and have lost feeling in one or both feet.
- Look and feel for bumps, lumps, bruises, cuts, sores or cracked skin. Any of these lesions can become infected.
- Be aware of temperature differences (one part of the foot is warm, another part is cold). This can signal reduced blood flow.
- Pain, tingling or no feeling at all. These can signal nerve problems.
- In addition to doing daily foot inspections, see a foot care professional for regular foot examinations and preventive foot care.
- Don’t walk barefoot; you may step on something and not realize it, setting the stage for a foot ulcer.
- Wear only properly selected and fitted shoes and padded socks to help prevent injuries to the skin/soft tissue of the foot.
- Check inside shoes daily for sharp points, edges, seams or other rough areas or foreign objects that may lead to cuts, wounds or abrasions on your feet.
IPFH has prepared a free pdf with these and other tips for preventing diabetic foot ulcers—something you definitely want to avoid.
Reviewed by: Robert P. Thompson, C.Ped, IPFH Scientific Advisory Board
Last updated: October 19, 2016