Diabetes and Exercise
Exercise is 1 of the best ways to help keep diabetes under control, and many people
say they feel better when they get regular exercise.
What exercise can do for you
Exercise is important for everyone. If you have diabetes, regular activity can make
you feel better and help prevent complications. Research has shown that exercise offers
a list of health benefits, including:
Reducing your risk for stroke and heart disease
Lowering your blood pressure and blood glucose
Helping your body use insulin
Raising your good cholesterol and lowering your bad cholesterol
You can be active
If you haven’t been active, talk to your health care team before you begin. People
with diabetes and eye or foot problems may need to avoid some types of exercise. Start
out slowly. Try adding more movement to your daily routine. Every little bit helps.
Here are some suggestions:
Park your car farther from the store and walk
Take the stairs instead of the elevator
Do some gardening
Take a walk with family, friends, or your pet
Other types of exercise that are good for people with diabetes include swimming, aerobics,
bicycling, skating, tennis, basketball, or other sports. These activities work your
large muscles, raise your heart rate, and increase your breathing capacity. These
are important fitness goals.
Strength training exercises using hand weights, elastic bands, or weight machines
can help strengthen and build muscle. Stretching helps with flexibility and preventing
As you get stronger and can do more, you can add a few extra minutes to your physical
activity. If you have pain, stop your activity until the pain goes away. If it returns,
call your health care provider right away.
Do some type of physical activity each day. Walking 10 or 20 minutes every day is
better than one hour just once a week.
Cautions about exercise with diabetes
If you have certain diabetes-related complications, there are some kinds of physical
activity you should avoid. Be sure to talk with your health care provider before doing
exercise involving heavy weights if you have blood vessel or eye problems, or poorly
controlled blood pressure. And, if you have nerve damage from diabetes, it may be
difficult to tell if you’ve injured your feet during exercise.
Always check your blood sugar before you exercise, especially if you take insulin
or certain oral medications. Physical activity can lower your blood glucose too much
and lead to hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can occur during exercise, after, or much later.
Signs of hypoglycemia include:
Pale skin color
Sudden moodiness or behavior changes
Clumsy or jerky movements
Difficulty paying attention, or confusion
Tingling sensations around the mouth
Be cautious about exercising if you’ve recently skipped a meal. And if your blood
glucose level is below 100, have a small snack first. If your blood glucose is higher
than 300, physical activity might drive it higher. Wait until your glucose level is
lower before exercising. Also, avoid exercising if your fasting blood glucose is higher
than 250 and if you have ketones in your urine. Ask your health care provider about
the best times for you to exercise.
Another tip for exercise is to wear cotton socks and well-fitted, comfortable, athletic
shoes. After exercise, be sure to look closely at your feet for signs of irritation,
broken skin, blisters, or other injuries.
Be sure to drink lots of fluids during exercise. Dehydration can affect your blood
If you're having fun doing physical activities you really like, you'll be more likely
to exercise each day.