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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Helping people with foot ulcers to exercise

Project summary

Treating foot ulcers involves resting, but this can mean long periods of inactivity. Dr McCarthy has developed an exercise programme designed for people with foot ulcers who need to sit down. He hopes this will help to improve their blood sugar levels, quality of life and overall fitness. Too little exercise can make diabetes more difficult to manage, so an exercise programme at this time could be crucial. This project will also provide evidence for doctors, to help them support patients to stay active whilst keeping off their feet.

Background to research

If you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, raised blood sugar levels can cause nerve damage and a loss of sensation in your feet. This can mean that cuts and sores can go unnoticed. Raised blood sugar levels can also cause blood vessels to narrow, reducing blood flow to the feet so that cuts take longer to heal. Together, nerve and blood vessel damage can lead to the development of a foot ulcer.

To help a foot ulcer to heal, doctors often advise people to rest their foot as much as possible. But this can lead to long periods of time sitting down with lower levels of activity, which can have a negative impact on their health. 

Research aims

Dr Matthew McCarthy wants to see if a 12-week seated upper-body exercise programme can help people with diabetes and foot ulcers to improve their fitness, quality of life and blood sugar levels. He will recruit people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes who have a foot ulcer to take part in his study. He will test their fitness levels, take a blood sample to check their blood sugar levels and ask them to fill in a questionnaire about their quality of life. The study volunteers will also undergo a scan to look at their fat and muscle levels inside their bodies.

Half the volunteers will take part in 12 weeks of exercise training using a seated arm cycle machine. They’ll do this three times a week while being supervised by a trained research team member. They will slowly work up to 150 minutes of seated arm cycling each week – the daily recommended amount of exercise advised by the government. The other half of the study volunteers won’t take part in the exercise programme, and will continue their lives as normal. At the end of the 12-week period, the researchers will look for any differences between the two groups.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Being active is good for both our physical and emotional health. It can help us to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it can make managing diabetes easier, and it can improve sleep and combat stress. So it’s important that people with diabetes don’t have to compromise on these benefits whilst recovering from a foot ulcer. If successful, this research can help to change that, and help doctors to empower people with foot ulcers to keep active whilst staying off their feet.

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