Want to have a more flexible body and improve your circulation? Nicole McCreedy tells us why stretching should be part of everyone’s day – especially those of us living with diabetes. Here’s how to do a few easy stretching exercises for diabetics at home.
Stretching exercises for diabetics
When we’re young, it’s easy to imagine that our bodies will always do what they’re told. But as we age, our muscles tighten and all of a sudden something as easy as bending over to pick up your keys might be a struggle. Stretching is important because it keeps the body flexible and allows your joints to move through their full range of motion. Here’s all you need to know to keep flexible.
For people with diabetes, improving circulation is essential for maintaining good health. Because stretching increases blood flow to the muscles, specifically the legs, it is great for circulation, but that’s not all. Regular stretching will increase nutrients to the muscles, improve your co-ordination, lengthen your muscles, reduce lower back pain, and even increase your energy levels. These easy stretching exercises for diabetics can form part of your everyday routine.
How to stretch
While you can stretch anytime, anywhere – in your home or at work – you want to be sure to do it safely. Each stretch should be done in a slow and controlled manner till you feel ‘mild discomfort’. If it feels painful, you’ve stretched too far. Do not bounce or force the stretch.
Ideally, you should stretch before you start exercising. To avoid injury, first warm up your muscles. Run on the spot for a few minutes or do some jumping jacks to get your blood flowing and increase your heart rate. Stretch again at the end of your training sessions to help your muscles recover.
Types of stretching
What kind of stretching you choose to do will depend on your fitness and flexibility.
The most common form of stretching: safe for beginners. Give this a try: to stretch the back of your upper thigh lie down on your back. Lift your right leg up in the air, heel facing the ceiling. Make sure that your lower back stays in contact with the floor and the left leg remains straight on the floor. Grip your raised leg with both hands. You may be comfortable holding your thigh, or you may be able to clasp your knee. Do what feels best for you. Keep your head and neck relaxed. Hold for 30 seconds or less. Change legs.
Using something outside yourself to help you stretch. Here’s a passive stretch to try: Relax the muscle you are trying to stretch and rely on a strap, gravity, another person, or your own body weight to stretch the muscle gently. Make sure you are well balanced before you start stretching!
Passive stretching is useful for those who have been injured or are frail. A recent study has found that passive stretching can help regulate blood glucose and is beneficial in treating people who are less physically able.
Moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly. Take shoulder circles for instance: stand tall, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Lift your right shoulder towards your right ear, take it backwards, down and then up again to the ear in a smooth action. Repeat six to ten times. Do the same with the left shoulder. What you are doing is actively contracting the muscle in the opposition position to the one that you are stretching.
Love stretching and want to take it further? Try yoga or pilates – both involve active stretching. With yoga, the postures are timed with the breath and are designed to put pressure on the glandular system. Here’s all about yoga and diabetes. In pilates, the sequence of movements focuses on strengthening your core muscles – the deep, internal muscles of the abdomen and back.
Tips: stretching exercises for diabetics
Remember that – just like people – each muscle group and joint is individual. Biokineticist Sarah Hall has some tips.
- Make sure that you warm up before you do any activity, and stretch afterwards as well. A quick rule of thumb is to stretch a muscle only if it is tight.
- Do not stretch in such a way that you put another joint or muscle at risk of injury.
- Try to isolate a muscle when stretching. If you are working the hamstring, do not put weight on that leg. Breathe into the stretch to allow the benefits of the stretch to move through that muscle.
- Decide on a reason for stretching a particular muscle: is it to relax, release tightness or restore length to the muscle? Aim to stretch each muscle for between 10 and 30 seconds.
Ask the expert: endocrinologist Dr. Zaheer Bayat
Exercise is good for everybody. But for those with diabetes, there are added benefits:
- Exercise lowers blood sugar levels as muscles require more glucose for fuel.
- Exercise helps in losing weight, which in turn improves morale. Not only will you feel better, you will also look good.
- Exercise improves insulin sensitivity. This can go a long way to stabilizing blood sugar levels
When starting any exercise programme, it is important to spend a few minutes stretching, which will help lessen the risk of doing damage to yourself.
“Flexibility is an important part of fitness, so stretching should be included in any exercise programme. It’s also a great way to manage and prevent muscle cramps. Not sure what to do? Get a physio, biokineticist or trainer to assist you with the right stretches for the muscle groups in which you are particularly tight.”
Prof. Wayne Derman, Professor of Sports and Exercise Medicine
Talk to us about what exercise you do on Diabetic South Africans on Facebook – we’d love to connect!
What to read next?
Easy exercise for diabetics: walking: Find out all about how walking can improve your blood sugar and your diabetes control.
10 fun ways to fitness: Take a look at these 10 suggestions for fun exercise options that are perfect for diabetics.
Yoga for diabetics: How to get started with a yoga practice to improve your fitness, and your diabetes.