Exercise and Diet Tips to Protect Your Diabetic Feet
There’s no worse feeling for a podiatrist than telling a patient that their foot will likely need to be amputated due to an out-of-control infected wound.
Don’t get us wrong: we do absolutely everything in our power to keep you from reaching that point. We’ve chosen to specialize in advanced wound care techniques like AmnioFix, skin substitutes, and even hyperbaric oxygen therapy to give you the absolute best possible chance of keeping your limb.
But sometimes there’s really nothing more we can do. And that’s hard, for two big reasons. One, because we know how drastically it can change your life. But two, almost all diabetic-related amputations (and other major complications) are preventable with healthy diet, exercise, and routine care.
That’s what we’d like to talk about today: how you can develop the healthy habits now that will keep you from having to hear some very difficult news later.
Exercise Tips for Diabetes
Regular exercise is crucial for anyone with diabetes. It’s an important component of keeping your blood sugar levels better regulated on a day-to-day basis, which in turn helps prevent the progression of nerve damage, circulatory decline, and other complications that can lead to severe problems in the feet (and elsewhere).
But there’s a catch:
If your feet are already severely affected by neuropathy or poor circulation, certain forms of exercise can also increase your risk of injury. So it’s extra important not just that you get yourself moving, but that you do so safely. Here are some quick tips:
- Please check in with your podiatry team here at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists and/or your general practitioner before starting a new sport or exercise program. This will help you make sure you can do so safely.
- Always wear appropriate gear. For people with diabetes, this may include proper diabetic socks, comfortable shoes, and orthotic inserts.
- Start new activities slowly. It takes time for your body to get “used to” new exercises, new modes of locomotion, and even increased intensity, speed, or distances within your chosen sport or activity. Only increase your efforts by a maximum of 10 percent per week.
- Remember, you don’t have to run marathons for your exercise to “count.” For diabetes, even 30-60 minutes of brisk walking, two or three times per week, is excellent exercise.
- Depending on the severity of the risk to your feet, you may want to avoid high impact activities which involve a lot of running of jogging. If walking doesn’t keep you interested, you can try things like swimming, cycling, water aerobics, or even yoga.
- Check your blood glucose before exercise, at least once per hour during exercise, and again after exercise. Be prepared with fluids and appropriate snacks.
Diet Tips for Diabetes
Healthy eating is, obviously, also an extremely important way to keep those blood sugars in check—and, again, slow or prevent the kinds of complications that can increase the danger to your feet.
A while back, we wrote a pretty comprehensive blog with healthy eating guidelines, so if you’re looking for a more detailed look, go check that out now!
Or, if you’d prefer, read on for the “Cliff Notes” version, then check out the longer blog (and, ultimately, check in with your PCP or dietician for even more personalized recommendations).
If some of this sounds a little familiar, it should. A good diabetes diet really isn’t all that different from a healthy diet in general! You just need to be a little extra careful in certain areas, and also in terms of when you eat.
- The core of your diet should be non-starchy veggies and fruits. These are generally rich in complex carbs (which don’t spike your sugar as much since they take longer to digest) and dietary fiber (which further moderates digestion).
- You’ll need healthy sources of proteins as well. Beans, lentils, and nuts are good plant-based sources, while skinless poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy are good animal-based sources.
- Get a “medium” amount of starchy veggies and whole grains. On the one hand they provide vital nutrients, but on the other they can raise blood glucose quickly if you go overboard.
- Keep empty calories from things like sugary drinks and junk food to a minimum. Not only do they provide little-to-no nutrition, but they can easily cause your sugar to go haywire.
- If you enjoy an alcoholic drink from time to time, moderation is key. Although we don’t necessarily recommend that you drink, limiting yourself to no more than one drink per day, with food, should be fine for most people with diabetes.
- Smaller and more frequent meals, eaten at consistent times each day, are much better than overeating and then waiting until you get really hungry. You’ll feel more satisfied, be less likely to cheat on your diet, and likely do a much better job keeping your sugar levels in a healthy range along the way. Avoid waiting more than 90 minutes for breakfast, more than 4-5 hours without food during the day, or more than 10 hours overnight.
Rely on Your Team
The thing is, even if you think you’re totally on top of your diet and exercise, certain diabetic complications (like neuropathy) tend to creep up slowly over years—sometimes so slowly you don’t fully realize the damage until after it’s already mostly done.
To keep that risk to a minimum, you should always be checking in at regular intervals with members of your diabetic care team. And in addition to a primary care physician and dietician, your team should also include a podiatrist.
At Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona, we recommend all our diabetic patients see us at least once per year for a routine checkup—even if there’s no previous history of foot problems. After all, you want to stop those foot problems before they happen, and we can offer testing, maintenance care, and preventative care (such as orthotics and diabetic shoes) to keep your feet going strong!
If it’s been too long since you saw a foot specialist, give us a call today at (480) 963-9000. You can also use our online contact form and a member of our office will reach out to during our normal office hours.