Type 2 Diabetes: 7 Tips to Protect Your Feet While Exercising
Medically Reviewed by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Which Choice Is Better for Your Diabetes Diet?
Regular exercise has tremendous benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. Being active can help you maintain a healthy weight and manage blood pressure and blood sugar levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But diabetes can increase your risk of various foot problems, meaning a little extra precaution is in order when choosing fitness activities and the footwear you use while engaging in them.
“People with diabetes need to be mindful of their feet at all times, and especially when exercising,” says Megan Porter, RD, LD, a certified diabetes educator in Portland, Oregon. “Many foot problems can be cared for early on so that they don’t progress, but the key is preventative care and maintenance.”
Understanding Diabetes Foot Complications
The CDC reports that among people 45 years of age and older, those with diabetes are about 10 times more likely to lose a foot or leg to amputation than people who don’t have diabetes. Porter explains that diabetes-related foot complications are due primarily to two issues that can arise from high blood sugar: poor blood flow to the feet — which can cause foot injuries to heal slowly — and diabetic peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage.
“When the body no longer has the ability to control blood sugar within a tight range, the excess sugar in the blood can lead to damage to the nerves surrounding our body — especially in the feet,” she says.
This loss of sensation in the feet means a person with diabetes may not be able to sense if their feet are too cold, too hot, tired, or in pain. The loss of feeling also makes balancing more difficult, putting them at risk of a fall.
Other common foot problems that may arise in people with diabetes include:
Corns and calluses: These thickened areas of skin result from too much pressure or friction on the foot, and can occur as a result of wearing shoes that are too tight. They can also develop when the toes begin to become deformed and start rubbing against each other.
“Corns and calluses can break down into ulcers over time if left untreated,” Porter says.
Foot ulcers are essentially foot sores. In people with diabetes, foot ulcers are a common reason for hospital stays.
Ingrown toenails: When shoes don’t fit well or nails aren’t trimmed properly, the result can be an ingrown toenail. With an ingrown toenail, the edge of the nail grows down and into the skin of a toe, causing the toe to become red or infected.
Hammertoe: Also called rotated toe, a hammertoe is a toe with an abnormal bend in the middle joint. Hammertoe can occur when foot muscles become weak and the small toes begin to bend underneath the foot, making it hard to walk. It can cause corns, calluses, and ulcers in people with diabetes.
Dry and cracked skin: Overly dry skin can result from the dehydrating effects of high blood sugar, and because damaged foot nerves may not be able to allow for proper skin oil, says Porter.
Skin that’s too dry can eventually crack, which is problematic. “Cracked skin can allow infections that love to live in a dark, warm and moist environment, where the sugar in the blood becomes a supplier of food for the infection,” she notes.
If you notice any of these foot issues or any other changes in your feet, you should see your doctor for treatment right away. You should also visit your doctor if you experience any pain, swelling, redness, numbness, burning, or tingling sensations in your feet or legs, or restless legs at night, adds Porter.
Stay Active for Better Diabetes Management
The possibility of foot problems shouldn’t keep you from being active. The benefits of exercise for diabetes are still well worth the effort. In fact, being active can actually help improve your blood circulation, which is good for your feet.
In addition, “exercise can help with many other areas of diabetes, such as reducing the risk for of depression, and can help to control after-meal hunger,” says Porter.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people with diabetes aim for 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise per week, spread out over at least three days of the week. Examples of aerobic activity include brisk walking, dancing, and gardening.
The ADA also recommends strength training at least twice a week, such as lifting light weights or using resistance bands.
How to Protect Your Feet When Exercising
To take care of your feet while being active, try these simple tips:
1. Opt for activities that are lower in impact. “Choose activities that are easy on your feet such as walking, biking, or swimming instead of running,” suggests Porter.
2. Don’t go barefoot. Shoes help protect your feet from injury, particularly when you’re exercising. Even if you’re going for a swim, you can opt for a pair of close-toed poolside shoes or aquatic shoes to wear in the pool.
3. Wear shoes in good shape. Be sure your exercise shoes aren’t worn out. In addition, your shoes should “offer good support for your arches and ankles, which allows room for your toes,” says Porter.
4. Wear the right type of shoes for the activity. For example, shoes designed for a tennis court won’t offer the right type of support if you’re going jogging.
5. Always wear socks. Unless you’re getting in the water, “wear good, supportive socks that allow the feet to breathe,” Porter notes. You might want to purchase socks with extra padding or moisture-wicking socks that help keep your feet dry.
6. Clean, check, and hydrate your feet daily. Check your feet before and after exercise for sores or any other changes. Remember that you may have an injury even if you don’t feel pain. Wash and dry your feet every day, and trim your toenails immediately afterwards, if needed. Porter also suggests using a non-scented, hydrating lotion on a daily basis to keep feet moisturized.
7. Report any new foot problems immediately. “Look for redness, blisters, or any changes to your feet, and report to your doctor if you do have any of these,” says Porter.
Your doctor will likely check your feet when you go for your regular check-up appointments to make sure they are looking healthy, Porter says. “If your doctor is not checking your feet, ask them to do so or to send you to an orthopedic doctor,” she suggests.
As smoking lessens blood flow to the feet, not smoking — and effectively managing your diabetes — can also help keep your feet healthy.
If you have any questions on getting started with an exercise routine or taking care of your feet, check with your doctor. With a little extra care, you can enjoy being active — and reap the benefits for your diabetes and overall health.
Source: Everyday Health