Being active with a long-term condition

If you have a long-term condition being more active can be a great, safe way to help manage your condition, reduce your symptoms and feel stronger. Doing walking and other lighter activities should be fine, but if you have any worries or concerns about starting to get active, please speak to your healthcare team.


Why does being active help with long-term conditions?

You’ll already be aware that a healthy lifestyle is often a vital part of treatment for most long-term conditions, whether it’s COPD, diabetes, asthma, heart disease or another condition.

Alongside a healthy diet, being active is the central part of any healthy lifestyle, it can help you manage your weight, manage your blood pressure, glucose and make breathing easier. It’s important to choose an activity that’s right for you and stick to light to moderate activities if needed. Being more active can make living with a long term condition much easier.

How much should I do?

If you’re not very active at the moment, it’s a good idea to start small and aim to do at least 10 minutes of activity where you can. Once you’ve got started, you should try working towards doing 10 minutes or more on 3 or 4 days a week. Then, when you feel comfortable, work your way up to doing half an hour or more on 5 days each week (or 2 and half hours across a week if you prefer).

Even a small increase in activity should leave you feeling upbeat and energised, so there’s no need to over-do it. Have a chat with your practice nurse, health visitor or GP if you have any questions about being active with your condition.

Can I be active with COPD?

Being more active is one of the best things that you can do for your lungs. It can help keep them healthy and make breathing easier. It doesn’t have to be hard work either; it could be something as simple as going for a walk.

It’s understandable if you’re worried about activity making you more breathless, but you’ll be surprised just how good it can be for your condition. It improves your fitness, muscle strength, helps you to build a good breathing technique and can make you feel better.

If you feel anxious about starting to be active, speak to your healthcare team about taking part in a local pulmonary rehabilitation programme, known locally as ‘Breathe’. This is an expert course, monitored by professionals who can advise you on how to be active safely.

What is pulmonary rehabilitation?

Pulmonary rehabilitation, known locally as the Breathe programme, teaches you how to become more active in a safe and effective way. This is run by a team of trained healthcare professionals, like physiotherapists, specialist nurses and occupational therapists. They’re there to help you manage breathlessness and feelings of anxiety or panic.

Ask your GP or practice nurse if you can attend a pulmonary rehabilitation course. The course is specially designed for people with COPD and involves a flexible programme of up to 10 weeks. These classes should to help you find a safe level of activity that you’re comfortable with, which could be anything from breathing exercises to walking on a treadmill.

How does being active help my COPD?

Even a small amount of activity can have a huge impact on your condition. You might be surprised at just how positively it will affect your life. As well as improving fitness, strengthening your muscles and helping you build a good breathing technique, there are lots of other benefits.

  • It will help you get less chest infections and you will be able to fight them more easily
  • Daily activities will become much easier and you’ll become steadier on your feet
  • It will strengthen the bones and muscles you use to breathe
  • You’ll find yourself with a lot more energy and start to look and feel better
  • The strength of your heart muscles and circulation will improve
  • It will help to keep your stress levels low
  • It can lower high blood pressure
  • It reduces the risk of conditions like arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and stroke
  • It will help to reduce anxiety and depression

A really easy way to find out if you’re doing something that is too hard or easy is to say this phrase aloud while you’re being active: “Regularly being active is going to do me good!”

You should be able to say the whole sentence with two or three stops for breath. If you can say it without stopping, your routine is too easy and if you struggle to say more than one word at a time your routine is too hard.

Is being active with COPD safe?

Regular physical activity is a great way to improve your general health, as it will help reduce how breathless you feel and make doing everyday tasks like getting dressed or walking to the bus stop much easier.

A good way to make sure being active is safe for you is to have a chat with your healthcare team and see if they can advise you on which types of activity may be best for you. This can be anything from doing some gardening to going for a walk.

Being out of breath is safe. In fact, it’s good to try and do something every day that makes you feel slightly out of breath. We understand that it can be worrying at first, but being out of breath is completely natural and you will recover.

It’s important that you work at a pace that’s right for you and don’t overdo it. Try to change between activities that work different muscles or split them up and do some of them in the morning and some in the evening. Walking up and down stairs is something simple that you can do at any time of day.

Please be aware that a small number of people with COPD may experience a drop in oxygen when they are physically active. This isn’t something to worry about as it can be easily treated with portable oxygen. If you feel like this is happening to you, have a chat with your healthcare team so they can assess your situation and give you the right support.

Can I be active with diabetes?

Yes, being active is very important if you have diabetes because it can help you control your weight and improve blood circulation. This can help your body use insulin more effectively, which helps you manage your blood glucose levels more effectively and could reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease by 50%.

If you’re nervous or concerned about becoming more active or if you have multiple conditions, give your practice nurse the chance to offer advice and ease your fears before you begin.

How does being active help with diabetes?

An active lifestyle can be easier, safer and more achievable than you think, and even small amounts of activity can positively affect your blood glucose levels. You might be surprised at just how much being active can benefit your life. Being active with diabetes can:

  • Help manage your sugar levels
  • Improve blood circulation
  • Help control your weight
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Give you more energy
  • Lower the risk of stroke and heart disease

How does being active affect my blood glucose?

When you do an activity that makes you sweat, your body starts using all the glucose stored in your muscles for energy. When this is all used up, it starts taking glucose from your blood, which lowers your levels.

Being active also helps you use the insulin circulating in your system more effectively. Depending on what activity you’re doing, the positive effects that being active has on your insulin can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days.

Before being active you should be aware of what you need to do if you get a hypo (low blood glucose). If you take more insulin than your body needs to maintain glucose control, or if you do an activity too hard or for too long, you could go low. Click here for advice on dealing with hypos.

Although being active is a good way to reduce your blood sugar level, you should also be aware that in some situations it can actually raise your blood glucose levels. If you do a high-energy activity that leaves you huffing and puffing for air, your body will release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that raise blood glucose levels. If you do this a lot, be prepared for possible dips later in the day.

Will I need to adjust my diabetes medication?

Everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for another. This is why it’s important to keep testing your blood glucose levels often and adjust your medication to suit your needs.

You may find the amount of insulin you need is less on days where you’re active. Being active helps your body use insulin more efficiently and reduces the amount of glucose in your blood, so you may need to adjust your dosage to avoid hypoglycemia before and after activity. If you have any concerns about this, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare team for advice.

If you take oral medication for type-2 diabetes you’ll have less to worry about, it’s less likely that you’ll suffer hypoglycaemia as a result of being active. It’s better to be safe than sorry however, so keep testing often to see if your blood glucose levels change before and after activity.

Is being active with diabetes safe?

Being active with diabetes is safe for most people; you just need to make sure you keep an eye on your blood glucose levels. Be sure to check your blood sugar before, during, and after any activity you do. If it’s less than 100, eat at least 30 grams of carbohydrates before being active.

Then test your blood sugar again 45 to 60 minutes after you start doing an activity and if your blood sugar is 100 or less, you should eat another carbohydrate snack. If you’re doing something for an hour or more, regularly check your blood sugar levels over the next few hours. Blood sugar levels can continue to drop and stay low hours, even hours after you’ve finished being active.

Before you start being active you also need to make sure blood glucose levels are under 250 mg/dl. If they rise higher than this you should be careful. People with type 1 should test for ketones once the meter reads 250. If ketones are present in more than trace amounts you should not doing anything active.