Exercise is an important part of diabetes management and maintaining overall health and wellbeing.
We know that if you are living with diabetes, you are at greater risk of damage to your blood vessels and nerves, which can affect the circulation and sensation in your legs and feet.
This in turn can put your feet at greater risk of injury.
But we also know that exercise can help prevent and slow these complications. So, how do we maximise the health benefits of exercise while taking care of our feet? Is the risk worth the reward?
Our feet play an important role in mobility and physical activity. More often than not, they are the first place of contact with the ground and bear the forces associated with walking, running and jumping. If you are living with diabetes your feet may already be susceptible to injury – so you need to carefully manage this load. The following strategies can help: through the following strategies;
Choose the right footwear for the job
Footwear for exercise will need to be supportive, enclosed and well fitted. If you have decreased sensation in your feet, it can be hard to tell if a shoe fits correctly, so make sure you seek assistance from an athletic foot store or podiatrist to ensure your selected shoe fits correctly. As a general guide, your toes should not be in contact with the end of the shoe and your toes should not be squished together by the sides of the shoe.
For exercise, the shoe should be secured with laces or Velcro straps.
Review your footwear often – check for wear on the sole of the shoe and wear on the inside of the shoe, particularly at the heel. Excessive wear in these areas will compromise the health of your foot and surrounding muscles and joints. Make sure you replace your footwear as these areas wear or discuss with your podiatrist.
And lastly, be sure to look and feel inside your shoe before putting them on, making sure there are not foreign objects in your shoe that could hurt your foot. Shoes make a great home for your kid’s small toys!
Generally speaking, natural fibre socks are best. For exercise, look for a sock that will wick the moisture away from the skin. Moist or wet feet can lead to rubbing and blisters.
Inspect your feet regularly
It is recommended you check your feet before you exercise. If you cannot see the bottom of your feet, use a small mirror. If your feet are free from blisters and sores, you can start your exercises. If you detect any sores or open wounds on your feet, it may be best to allow the sores to heal before recommencing your exercise regime. There are many simple exercises you can do during this time, that will give your feet a rest– discuss with your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.
It may also be a good idea to vary your exercise regime to include different exercise. Activities like swimming, cycling or seated exercise might give your feet a bit of a break from carrying you around all the time.
After you have finished exercising, check your feet again, making note of any changes to your feet. If you detect any changes to your feet that were not there when you last inspected your feet, monitor them and seek advice from your doctor or podiatrist if they are not showing signs of improvement. If any signs of infection develop (redness, warm to touch, swelling, skin breakdown), see your doctor or podiatrist immediately. If in doubt, do not wait, ask your health professional/
For those who experience decreased sensation at their feet, it is important to make sure your exercise route is well surfaced. Unexpected rises in pavement or loose ground may put you off balance. Be vigilant and watch where you are walking/running.
With a few extra steps added to our daily exercise regime, exercise is most definitely an activity people with diabetes can and should safely pursue and enjoy.
People living with diabetes are encouraged to seek podiatry review every six to 12 months, or more frequently if your feet at ‘at risk’ or if there are any active foot problems.
- Podiatry WA (external link)
- Find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist via Exercise and Sports Science Australia (external link)
- Diabetes WA FootSmart program (external link)
Marian is a Diabetes Educator and an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Diabetes WA.