Top 3 Exercise Groups for Diabetic Neuropathy Diabetic Management


Neuropathy is nerve damage to the cells. It can happen anywhere in the body, but it is most often noticed in the hands and feet. Neuropathy can range from mild, tingling sensations to severe pain. One of the leading causes of neuropathy is poor blood circulation. People with diabetes also have poor blood circulation. This explains why 7 out of 10 diabetic patients suffer from neuropathy.

Exercise – the dilemma

To stay healthy and regulate glucose in the blood, a diabetic must be aware of the food they eat. They have to get regular exercise to keep their blood pumping and organs functioning at full potential. Of course, this keeps their muscles strong and their weight managed as well.

When you have neuropathy, your feet and hands are often numb or they are hurt. Your feet tell you if you are balanced. If you are trying to bend over, jump, twist, or step and you cannot feel your feet, you risk falling, and twisting your legs, hips, back, or neck when you land. You can break your bones and cause permanent damage to your body by attempting to do exercises that you are simply unable to do properly. No one has ever controlled diabetes or neuropathy by ignoring the limitations they impose on your life.


Preparing for exercise

Exercise will become part of your life. It will become routine. Until that day, you need to give some thought to setting things up to make it feel natural. As a diabetic, you know you should always have your glucose testing meter with you. This is one of the first things we learn. Even before we learn how “high blood sugar” and “low blood sugar” feel we learn to use a glucose meter to check a single drop of blood and make sure we are in range. But, don’t assume this small meter is a minor thing. The meter, lancets, and strips you use are major tools in your life. That is the only way you have to look inside your body and know instantly if you have a dangerous situation going on.

Industry giants Ascensia Diabetes Care have been dedicated to improving the lives of diabetics for more than 70-years. If you look back at the history of their testing equipment, you will appreciate the importance of the meters you have today. They spent years and millions to create ways for the average person to know, at any given moment, if their blood sugar was controlled so they could live their lives. If you are not sure of the meter you are using, check to see what blood glucose meters are covered by Medicare.

Before you begin

  • The Mayo Clinic recommends that diabetics check their blood sugar 15-30 minutes before exercising. If your reading is lower than 100 mg, you should eat a small snack containing 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates. When your reading is between 100 – 250 mg, you are good to exercise. If your blood sugar is over 250 mg, you are in a danger zone. Your body may not have enough insulin. Do not exercise at this time. Follow the information your doctor gave you for situations like this.
  • Be sure you have water with you
  • Take a friend
    • If you are going alone or going outdoors be sure someone knows where you are going and take a cell phone with you

Exercises for the diabetic with neuropathy

Strength Training (Seated)

Check out your gym’s seated body-strengtheners. This includes:

  • leg extension
  • hamstring curl
  • glute kickback machines
  • bicep curls to shoulder presses (while seated on a bench)

Your muscle, insulin, and vascular health are tightly linked, with muscle acting as a sort of sugar-burning furnace that just so happens to help your blood vessels “pump” blood to and from your heart.

Suggested: 2X per week


Low-Impact Cardiovascular Exercise

There is no doubt that aerobic exercise is the best all-around exercise for most groups of people. Cardiovascular exercise reduces blood sugar, lowers cholesterol levels, burns calories, and is a natural mood enhancer. However, it causes significant risks for a diabetic patient with neuropathy. Lack of balance can cause injuries from slip and fall accidents. Cuts, scrapes, and blisters are not always felt and sometimes become infected. Diabetics do not heal quickly so this can be a serious problem.

This is why it is recommended that patients move their aerobics to indoor options. Go with low-impact activities, such as swimming and indoor cycling. If you are not well-balanced on a bike, consider an indoor bike. These exercises also help to further improve blood flow to your hands and feet and improve nerve health.

Suggested: 30 minutes per workout, 5X per week

Balance and Stability Work / Mind & Body

While this is two groups, it can work closely together and you can work on them at the same time. A diabetic with neuropathy is 23 times more likely to fall than those without according to a review published by the International Journal of Nursing Science. That is why exercising to maintain your balance and stability is so important. You are training your muscles and the neurons in charge of them to correctly signal and effectively work together. This is not extremely physically demanding, but it is mentally taxing.

At the same time, studies repeatedly show that active meditation exercises such as Yoga is beneficial in the management of many neurological disorders including diabetic neuropathy. Yoga is beneficial in reducing stress levels, blood pressure, and inflammation, all of which can affect the progression of diabetes-related neuropathy.

Include balance or stability work into every workout. Perform one-legged exercises (holding onto the wall or a sturdy object for balance), practice walking from heel to toe in a straight line, and complete core exercises. Consider a gentle flow yoga class as a way to recover after a more intense strength or cardio workout. Meanwhile, more advanced yoga classes (call your local studio for details) can function as a great cardio and strength workout in one.

Suggested: Daily

Customize your plan

No two people are alike. This is especially true when a person has diabetes and neuropathy. Creating a workout plan will require a lot of flexibility and patience. You are worth the effort. Your exercise plan, like your diet plan, is a suggestion. It will be adjusted along the way. There is no right way and no wrong way. There is only a goal. Every step you take toward that goal is a win. There are a lot of great people and great companies behind you. So just push on. You will succeed as long as you never stop trying.