Exercising with diabetic retinopathy

Can you exercise with diabetic retinopathy? The simple answer is yes. However this is a serious condition that could be made worse if caution is not used. It is one of the major complications that could potentially happen to diabetics.

Your retina is the tissue located at the back of your eye that is sensitive to light. When it’s healthy your vision is nice and clear. However, problems occur over time when the arteries supplying blood to the retina become blocked. This condition can be classified as “non-proliferative” or “proliferative” retinopathy.

Non-proliferative retinopathy

In the non-proliferative form of retinopathy the blood vessels at the back of the eye become blocked and begin to swell.  This blockage is mostly caused by high levels of glucose being forced through tiny blood vessels.  It can also be due to high cholesterol which indicates the importance of a proper diet. Fluid then leaks into the retina causing blurred vision.

New blood vessels (capillaries) will form to take the place of the blocked ones but these can break which would lead to proliferative retinopathy which is a more serious condition.  Proliferative retinopathy can actually cause vision loss.

Exercising with non-proliferative retinopathy

Both types of this condition will put certain restrictions on the forms of exercises you will be able to do. In the non-proliferative form of this disease you can have mild, moderate or severe retinopathy.

With mild retinopathy you can take part in most forms of exercises with your doctor’s approval. In moderate and severe non-proliferative retinopathy you need to proceed with caution. Any exercise that increases blood pressure can exacerbate the condition.

In the moderate condition you can generally take part in most exercises after getting clearance from your doctor. These include swimming, cycling, walking, dancing or using an elliptical exerciser. You will want to avoid any sport where there is too much straining involved, such as power lifting or wrestling.

If you have to hold your breath while performing the exercise (which I don’t recommend doing in any sporting event . . . . unless you are a diver), avoid that activity. Breathing correctly is important when doing any activity and especially for a diabetic with this condition.

In severe non-proliferative retinopathy you can participate in most exercises but avoid those where rapid movement is involved such as martial arts, boxing, running sprints or lifting heavy weights. The rule of thumb is if the exercise is going to increase blood pressure you should avoid that activity.

Proliferative retinopathy

With proliferative retinopathy, or the more serious form of this condition, there are many activities you can do. It’s important however, that you consult with your doctor before participating in certain exercises.

Although, it is recommended that you become involved in some form of exercise, caution should rule the day here. There are activities you can do however, and these include any form of low impact or non-jarring exercise such as swimming, cycling on a stationary bike, low impact aerobics and walking.

You will want to stay away from high impact activities such as jogging, high impact aerobics, tennis and volleyball.  You may also be restricted from playing any wind instruments for the obvious reasons. Avoid any movements where you have to bend your head lower than your heart.

If you’ve had any type of eye surgery, it is important to stop most types of exercise and only proceed with your doctor’s approval.

Image result for diabetic eye problems

In all the above situations you should check with your doctor or health care provider regularly to get status updates on your condition.  Warm ups and cool downs are also important prior to participating in any physical activity.

Retinopathy is a serious problem that can be made worst if not properly monitored and treated.

To a healthier you,

Owen Lecky


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2 Responses to Exercising with diabetic retinopathy

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  2. […] Capillaries supplying our eyes will become blocked – shutting off the natural supply of oxygen. If this continues you will develop serious vision problems. […]

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