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Diabetic Neuropathy: Exercising Safely

Topic Overview

Regular exercise may help control your diabetes, which can reduce your risk of severe diabetic neuropathy. Depending on what areas of your body have been affected by nerve damage, though, you may need to modify some aspects of your exercise program so that other problems don't develop.

Before beginning an exercise program, ask your doctor to do a thorough exam of your legs and feet for signs of peripheral neuropathy. And make sure you have properly fitted shoes to protect your feet from injury.

Exercising safely with foot problems

If you have nerve damage in your feet, you need to avoid repetitive, weight-bearing exercises, such as jogging, prolonged walking, and step aerobics. Repetitive stress on feet affected by neuropathy can lead to ulcers, fractures, and joint deformities. Stick to exercises that do not put stress on your feet, such as:

  • Swimming.
  • Bicycling.
  • Rowing.
  • Seated exercises.
  • Arm and upper-body exercises.
  • Other non-weight-bearing exercises.

Avoiding heart and blood pressure problems

Autonomic neuropathy affecting the heart and blood vessels may limit—but not eliminate—your capacity for exercise. It increases your risk of having a heart attack (often a silent heart attack) during strenuous exercise and may cause sudden shifts in your blood pressure during or after exercise. Make sure you talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. He or she can help you plan a gentle program that will improve your health without pushing you beyond your body's limits.

Maintaining safe body temperature during exercise

Autonomic neuropathy may reduce the body's ability to regulate its own temperature (thermoregulation). Abnormally profuse or abnormally reduced sweating are the usual signs of this problem. People with this type of neuropathy should not exercise in very hot or very cold environments because their bodies cannot safely adapt to these temperatures. Use silica gel or air midsoles and wear polyester or polyester/cotton blend socks to keep your feet dry during exercise. It is also important to drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. The body is better able to control its temperature when it is well hydrated.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Barrie J. Hurwitz, MD - Neurology
Last Revised April 12, 2012

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