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Q: What should I know about exercising with diabetes?

Health classes on diabetes often focus on the importance of diet. But actually, exercise can be really helpful in controlling this condition and keeping your body healthy. That's because, while insulin is important for keeping your blood sugar under control, it can also cause problems with circulation.

When insulin levels are higher than normal, it can cause your blood vessels to thicken and become calcified. This can especially affect the capillaries, which is why parts of your body that are served by these small blood vessels—like the kidneys, brain, the muscle of the heart, and extremities like your feet and toes—can develop problems as a result.

Exercise helps, because strenuous exercise—not leisurely walking, but the kind that really gets your heart pumping—causes your muscles to absorb sugars directly out of your blood. This helps you keep your blood sugar levels under control with less insulin.

At the same time, exercise allows new collateral blood vessels to form in your body's tissues, improving circulation and getting the blood flowing to these areas more effectively.