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Diabetic Neuropathy: Exercising Safely

Diabetic Neuropathy: Exercising Safely


Regular exercise may help control your diabetes, which can reduce your risk of severe diabetic neuropathy. But depending on what areas of your body have been affected by nerve damage, you may need to change some parts of your exercise program to avoid more problems.

Before you start 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, avoid repetitive, weight-bearing exercises, such as jogging, prolonged walking, and step aerobics. Repeated stress on feet that are affected by neuropathy can lead to ulcers, fractures, and joint problems. Choose 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 affects the heart and blood vessels. It may limit your ability to exercise. It increases your risk of having a heart attack (often a silent heart attack ) during strenuous exercise. And it 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. Your doctor can help you plan a gentle program that will improve your health without pushing you beyond your body's limits.

Keeping a safe body temperature during exercise

Autonomic neuropathy may reduce the body's ability to regulate its own temperature. Very heavy or severely reduced sweating are the usual signs of this problem.

People with this type of neuropathy should not exercise in very hot or very cold places. 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. Your body is better able to control its temperature when it is well hydrated.

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Current as of: October 10, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Karin M. Lindholm DO - Neurology

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