Keep up good exercise during winter

Nick Caracandas from Diabetic Athletic shares an action plan to keep up good exercise during the colder months.

As people living with diabetes, we know that our condition is a full-time job. We also know that with any full-time job, it helps to create a happy and healthy working environment.

If we make enemies and cause difficulty in the workplace, we can expect our time at work to be less desirable and more challenging than it needs to be.

The same goes for our job while being the CEO of our diabetes. Granted, we didn’t ask for this position, however, it’s here and most likely here to stay.

Be the CEO of your diabetes

The environment we create each day is the largest contributing factor to how we manage and maintain our physical, mental and emotional well-being with diabetes. All three are important for our workplace but also for us as healthy and happy diabetes patients.

Being the CEO, we need to manage our diabetes as we would manage any employee or aspect of our business. We need to have respect, understanding, patience, and put effort in; and only after that can we expect the same in return.

One of the best ways to make sure that you can maintain a more proactive winter season is to implement an action plan that can keep you on track.

I say proactive because most of us are handling our glucose levels, our exercise and our diets in a reactive manner. How often do you fix high glucose only after its sitting in undesirable ranges?

This is an example of reacting to our diabetes, rather than getting to know our patterns and proactively avoiding the high by acting before it happens.

Being reactive to weight gain or our glucose levels can get tiring and can cause potential diabetic burnout, that so many of us experience.

For you to increase your sensitivity to insulin, to tolerate carbs better and to maintain tighter control over your diabetes, you’ll need to create a daily lifestyle that helps achieve this.

Diabetes management 101

As people living with diabetes, we need a mind-set and understanding of the fact that diabetes is managed with exercise, nutrition and medication. This is how it is meant to be. No other way.

Regular exercise helps your body lower blood glucose levels, reduces insulin resistance and promotes weight loss, reduces stress and enhances physical fitness and enjoyment of life. Therefore, exercise is not a suggestion but is medicine and is considered one of the main tools to manage diabetes.

Planned and unplanned activity

First, I’m going to talk about activity. There are two kinds:

  1. Planned exercise, such as gym, workouts, cycling, and sports matches.
  2. Unplanned exercise, such as gardening, walking the dog, walking to the shops, or on the beach.

As any diabetes patient or individual wanting to maintain the best possible health, we need to make use of both these types of activity. Most of us will prioritise gym (planned activity) over unplanned activity which ultimately creates far less overall activity.

To explain: 

There are 10 080 minutes in one week. If we plan to go to gym three to five days a week, this only equals 180-300 minutes of activity out of a 10 080-minute week. This, unfortunately, will never be enough to make the change we’re after. The amount of activity versus the rest of the time we sit, sleep, work and eat are just not in favour of getting a positive outcome.

It must be said that going to gym three to five days a week isn’t easy to do, and you get an A+ for it! The issue here is that although you get an A+ for gym attendance, it’s still only 180-300 minutes of activity out of your 10 080-minute week. This means that your overall activity is still far too low for a good working environment for your diabetes.

So, what’s the fix?

We use gym sessions, or planned activity to provide us with a solid exercise base and strength within the body, and to maintain integrity within our joints and skeletal muscle. Planned activity is also good for making time for yourself, this is vital.

This kind of activity is best paired with non-exercise activity. This is where your daily steps come into play. By setting a challenge to achieve 10 000 daily steps, you’re going to increase the amount of time you spend being active throughout the entire day, not just the 45-60 minutes at the gym or walking from 6am -7am.

By increasing the unplanned activity, you’re going to cause your overall activity to be where it needs to be to have better glucose control and get better results.

Now that your overall activity is higher, you can start putting more effort into your exercise programme. I always tell my clients that the 10 000 daily steps will help improve heart health and will allow you to be able to ‘afford’ food.

Three types of exercise

For the best exercise plan as a patient living with diabetes, it’s recommended you first understand that there are three types of exercise:

  1. Aerobic – swimming, running, cycling, etc. These are generally long and steady-state in nature.
  2. Anaerobic – weight training, bodyweight, resistance training, etc. These are usually weighted workouts with resistance.
  3. Stop-start training – high-intensity interval training, or workouts that are both aerobic and anaerobic in nature.

Each of these will have different effects on your glucose levels. Aerobic activity will likely cause a low glucose event (hypo), while anaerobic activity will cause an initial spike before a potential glucose low.

Knowing how to exercise while staying in the range is the ultimate key to diabetic success. Having new workouts to do at home with no equipment is exactly what most of us need this winter to keep glucose levels in range and to keep the winter blues at bay.

Something to remember whenever you’re completing any kind of training or gym activity is that the higher the intensity, the more potential your glucose will have to spike.

Generally higher intensity exercises are completed over shorter durations due to the increased intensity (think about a sprinter running a 100m race, that pace can only be held for short periods of time).

Lower intensity workouts are more likely to cause a hypo and are often longer workouts due to the low intensity and increased duration of the activity (think about a long steady-state or slow-paced run).

Plan your workouts

  • Avoid a blood glucose low when doing an aerobic activity. This means eating carbs prior to training. Usually about 10-20g for most.
  • Avoid a blood glucose spike when doing weighted exercises or high-intensity classes or sessions, etc. This means giving insulin 10-15 minutes into your workout.
  • Find out how to create and complete workouts that serve a purpose towards your strength and fitness while causing the least disturbance to your glucose ranges.

Use these three points as a mini checklist to create the proactive mind-set, rather than training with random workouts and reacting to your diabetes.

Search for patterns and learn the rules

Diabetes control isn’t as random and as hard as most people believe. It hard for those that don’t yet understand certain diabetic guidelines and foundations.

Accounting is a good example. I struggled with accounting in matric. Was I the only one? No! The ones that excelled at accounting took the time to find patterns and learnt how the rules of accounting worked. Granted I never did this, and so, it led me to a place of overwhelming struggle.

If you can take the time to learn about exercise and diabetes, you’ll start to enjoy how easy increased activity can make your diabetic control. Just like any skill, it takes initial practice and a lot of repetition in the beginning.

I know this is all very easy to read and is often not as easy to act on and to apply. For this reason, I have included my Diabetic Athletic Custom Toolkit of guides to help you with everything you need.

These guides are free and for you to use as resources in your diabetic toolbox so you can master the diabetic skills to exercising with diabetes while staying in range and enjoying the process.

Download your FREE Diabetic Toolkit here.

Here is a home workout for beginners:

(These warm-ups and exercises have been taken out of my home workout guide for diabetics)

Get your free workout here:

Read more about the frequently asked questions regarding glucose levels and exercise.


Nick Caracandas is a strength and conditioning coach with a passion for helping fellow diabetes patients learn more about how to live life with more diabetic impact, freedom and control. With over 15 years as a fitness professional and gym owner, he has developed an online programme that takes diabetes patients from a place of struggle and guides them to a place of empowerment and confidence through exercise and nutrition. As a Type 1 diabetes patient for over 24 years, he has created multiple online programs that merge his experience with being a diabetic and being a reliable option for other diabetics worldwide. 

Header image by FreePik

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