Tips for Choosing a Workout Wardrobe
Build a workout wardrobe with functional pieces that meet your diabetes-specific needs
When you start a new exercise program, wearing the right clothes and shoes can boost your comfort level and make the miles or minutes fly by. And you don’t have to spend a fortune to outfit yourself. You can find high-tech apparel and supportive sneakers in discount stores and big-box retailers. Here’s what to home in on so you can shop smart.
CHECK THE LABEL
An old concert tee and a pair of khaki shorts may be your go-to summer staples, but they’re a soggy choice for exercise. Why? Cotton absorbs moisture. A better pick: moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics, such as the nylon and polyester blends favored by athletic brands. “Many people with diabetes have an impaired ability to regulate their body temperature during exercise, making them more prone to overheating and dehydration,” says Sheri Colberg, PhD, an exercise physiologist and professor emerita at Old Dominion University. “Clothing that allows sweat to evaporate helps regulate body temperature more effectively.”
Shop Smart: Look for tops and bottoms marked “moisture-wicking.” And if you’ll be working out in hot temps, choose a wide-weave fabric, such as mesh. It will allow more air to flow to your skin, keeping you cooler.
EYE THE SIZE
Fitted tops and leggings can create a smooth silhouette and prevent chafing, but tight isn’t right for everyone. When fabric is snug against your body, sweat stays on your skin longer—and that may be problematic if you’re overweight. “Moisture can build up in skin folds, creating an environment for fungus, yeast, and acne,” says Marie Jhin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco. And people with diabetes are already more susceptible to fungal and yeast infections.
Shop Smart: Loose-fitting garments can help prevent moisture buildup. Just don’t mistake “loose” for two sizes too large; extra fabric may cause friction, which can lead to chafing. If you’re wearing the right-size shirt, the shoulder seams should hit at the top of—you guessed it—your shoulders and the hem of the sleeve will be either midway between your shoulder and elbow (with short sleeves) or at your wrist (for long sleeves). And one more thing about those seams: Make sure the seams are flat to reduce rubbing.
CONSIDER WHAT YOU CARRY
Most exercisers only worry about where they’ll stash their keys and phone during a session, but people with diabetes often have to bring more. Depending on the location and duration of your workout, you may need to carry glucose tablets or gels, a meter, and a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) receiver—more if you’re heading off the beaten path, such as for a long hike. The snug pockets in many tops and pants aren’t ideal for such large items, so look for specialized accessories. Consider an armband or waist pack that has a storage pouch, such as those designed for long-distance runners. If you need to carry glucose tablets, look for pockets. Many workout pants have small compartments at the waistband or along the thighs; some tops and jackets have them at the chest, on an arm, or near the lower back.
Shop Smart: Any wearable workout accessory should fit snugly against your body, so it won’t slow you down or interfere with your movement. If possible, test-drive new gear (put it on and walk, bike, or perform a few of your usual exercises) before buying it to ensure it won’t get in the way.
SLIP ON SOCKS
Calluses and blisters are more common—and take longer to heal—when you have diabetes. So don’t skimp on your first line of defense against these issues: socks. “They should be seamless, have cushioning, and wick moisture,” says podiatrist Desmond Bell, DPM, CWS, founder and president of The Save a Leg, Save a Life Foundation. A seamless, cushioned design helps prevent chafing—key if you have a loss of sensation in your feet due to peripheral neuropathy, which can make it harder to notice when a sock is irritating your skin. Wicking fabric will help sweat evaporate faster, preventing fungal growth and reducing the risk of bacterial infection. If you have circulatory issues, also consider a mild compression sock since it can help improve blood flow to your feet.
Shop Smart: Look for a seamless, cushioned design, which will prevent chafing—key if you have a loss of sensation in your feet due to neuropathy. Moisture-wicking fabric will help sweat evaporate, preventing fungal growth and reducing the risk of bacterial infection. If you have circulatory issues, consider a mild compression sock, which can help improve blood flow to the feet.
PICK YOUR KICKS
Footwear is important for any exerciser, but it’s crucial for people with diabetes: Peripheral neuropathy can make it difficult to know if shoes don’t fit well, and pinching and rubbing can lead to hard-to-heal ulcers. Even without neuropathy, people with diabetes are at a higher risk of infections, so avoiding blisters is key.
The right sneakers can help you move better—and more safely—too. For example, tennis shoes have features that improve lateral stability to boost your steadiness as you step from side to side; and trail-running kicks have grooved outsoles to help grip uneven terrain. “To minimize your risk of injury, your [sneakers] should be designed for the type of exercise you’re doing,” says Joanne Duncan-Carnesciali, EdD, CDE, ACSM, a certified diabetes educator, clinical exercise physiologist, and principal of Choose2Empower Behavioral Health Consultants in New York. While walking- and running-specific kicks abound, there are specialty shoes for nearly every type of exercise and sport. (If you enjoy a variety of activities, choose a cross-trainer.)
First, pick a shoe for the type of activity you’ll be doing, whether that’s walking, trail running, or another sport. Then measure your feet or have them measured by a pro—size changes with age. Always try on sneakers, since sizing varies by manufacturer and swelling (common if you have kidney disease) may affect fit. And be sure to take along the active-wear socks you plan to wear during workouts.
Shop Smart: Pay close attention to sneakers’ design. “There should be adequate room in the toe box so your feet aren’t cramped and room to accommodate insoles if you need them,” says Bell. (If you use orthotics, put them in the shoes before you try them on.) Look for a breathable fabric to prevent fungal infections like athlete’s foot. If dexterity problems or neuropathy in your hands make tying laces tough, opt for Velcro closures.
Women have an additional workout must-have: a sports bra. “A properly fitted sports bra minimizes exercise-induced discomfort—it has the potential to make a session more enjoyable,” says Duncan-Carnesciali. While comfort is key, a good sports bra provides another benefit: When made of moisture-wicking materials, it’ll that limit sweat accumulation, helping prevent acne on the chest and fungal infections under the breasts.
Shop Smart: For activities such as walking and yoga, use a sports bra marked “low impact.” If you participate in workouts that involve running or jumping, look for a “high-impact” bra, which is designed to provide more support. And always try before you buy; sizing varies among manufacturers.
For outdoor exercise, grab some extra gear: a visor or hat made out of moisture-wicking material and sports sunglasses, which are designed to stay put as you sweat. Also look for clothing that has a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor), which means it prevents some of the sun’s radiation from reaching your skin.