Exercise is beneficial for many differing conditions and you can add diabetic neuropathy to the list.
In the early stages of diabetic neuropathy at least, walking appears to help control the nerve pain of neuropathy and to slow its progress as shown in a recent study. People with neuropathy who walked on a treadmill for an hour four times a week slowed how quickly their nerve damage worsened.
Exactly why exercise helped wasn’t discussed, but a an educated guess is that exercise simply creates a demand for an increased blood flow to the legs and feet, exposing damaged nerves to an increased level of needed nutrients.
Unfortunately, the pains associated with neuropathy are the very reason that keep sufferers from exercising in the first place. So the trick is to find an exercise that doesn’t aggravate the condition in the short run so you can keep exercising long enough to see the benefit. Here are a few tips that you might find helpful.
With Neuropathy, Start Slow
As always, get your heart, eyes, and feet checked out by your doctor before starting any new exercise and ask their opinion as to which kinds of exercise would be right for you.
Don’t feel you have to jump right in and exercise an hour a day. Slowly integrating exercise into your life is a much better way to ensure you’ll continue it. Doing too much too soon is a recipe fro disaster. Start with just five minutes of extra movement a day, even something as simple as moving your ankles up and down. As you feel more comfortable, add a little more time each day. The American Diabetes Association recommends building up to 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Because walking can be jarring on the feet, potentially increasing your pains, swimming or water aerobics may be a better choice. These non-impact exercises can be very helpful. Water provides both support and resistance so you’ll get less pressure on your feet, yet still use your muscles, creating an increased blood flow into the affected areas. You could also consider using stationary bike, an elliptical trainer, both of which give great workouts with far less pounding on the feet. Yoga and tai chi may also be helpful as their movements can help with both balance and relaxation.
Making Fitness Fun
Our bodies were built to move. Unfortunately, many people equate exercise with “work” and work usually means something unpleasant. May I suggest you think about exercise as a chance to play. Working at exercise can improve your fitness, but playing at exercise lifts both fitness and spirits. You don’t need to work up a major sweat to gain benefits.
As kids, most every one of us found something we liked to do, whether it was a sport or other activity. If possible, rekindle that enjoyment by integrating that sport or a modified version of it into your exercise program. For example, I loved to play basketball through my 20’s, but due to injuries found I could no longer continue. Now in my 50’s I continue to enjoy the game and get some good exercise simply by going to the gym to shoot baskets. On the other hand, my wife has always loved to dance – she continues to take dance classes with friends and even our daughters.
Another way to stay motivated is to set up “play-dates” with a friend, a neighbor, spouse, or even a pet, ideally someone with a similar fitness level. Can’t find anyone? Check out group classes at the local recreation center or gym.
Don’t feel locked into any particular routine — one of the most common reasons people give up on exercises is because it gets boring. Mix it up by learning a new sport or activity such as golf, bowling, or dancing. Go to the library and look for a new exercise DVD or video.
If you are looking for a practitioner who understands peripheral neuropathy near you, check out the group Neuropathy Treatment Centers of America. Although I am no longer associated with this group of doctors, I can attest that they are well-trained and can be of help.
— D. Michael Sullivan, D.C.
Doctor of Chiropractic