By Ann S. Williams, Ph.D., RN, CDE

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Regular physical activity is essential to diabetes management. It helps keep the heart and blood vessels healthy, prevents diabetes complications, and, if you have type 2 diabetes, is important for keeping blood glucose near normal. Vision loss may affect your ability to participate in the physical activities you once enjoyed, but with proper rehabilitation and attention to the modest safety measures that follow, most people can easily incorporate vigorous and rewarding physical activity into their daily routine.

Be Active, Be Safe

Vision loss need not impede an active lifestyle, whether or not diabetes is a factor. Many physical activities that sighted people enjoy can—with your doctor%27s OK—be easily adapted and enjoyed by people with visual impairment. These include walking, jumping rope, dancing (especially with a partner), gardening, swimming, and tandem biking.

With diabetes, however, there are potential trouble areas that you will have to pay close attention to as you proceed with your exercise plan. Keep in mind:

Heart Safety

You should consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program; it%27s especially important to do so if you%27ve lived with diabetes for five or more years. Diabetes is a strong risk factor for heart disease. Your doctor can help you plan an exercise program that is safe for you and can help prevent heart disease.

Foot Safety

If you have any foot problems, discuss your physical activity plans with your doctor or podiatrist before beginning. Even if you don%27t have foot problems, you need to protect your feet. Remember:

  • Always use proper footwear for the activity you are planning.

  • Inspect your feet before and after exercising.

  • Wash your feet daily.

Eye Safety

If you have active diabetic retinopathy and you have useful remaining vision, try to avoid any activity that can cause retinal bleeding. These might include racquet sports, high-impact aerobics, fencing, and jogging—activities that involve pounding throughout the body or sudden movements of the head. You should also avoid activities that increase blood pressure to the head—for example, exercises that involve leaning over with your head below the level of your heart. Lifting heavy objects or exercises that involve holding your breath and straining (as with leg lifts or sit-ups) can also lead to retinal bleeding.

Other Safety Considerations

If you have other disabilities that affect activity and mobility, such as amputation, arthritis, fibromyalgia, foot injury, paralysis, heart disease, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, etc., you can still benefit from appropriate exercise. Again, consult your doctor before beginning, and consider meeting with a physical therapist to plan physical activities that will work for you.

For More Information:

  • Diabetes Exercise & Sports Association. This organization works to enhance the quality of life for people with diabetes through exercise and physical fitness.

  • Leading an Active Lifestyle. This section of AFB Senior Site has more information on staying fit and links to organizations that have adapted many sports activities for people with vision loss.