Control diabetes with exercise
When it comes to managing, delaying or preventing diabetes, exercise plays a starring role, sharing the spotlight with your diet. In a world where it may feel like there are many factors you may have no control over, diet and exercise are two areas where you do have control.1
How does exercise affect blood sugar?
Our muscles store blood sugar (glucose) like little gas tanks. When we exercise, our muscles use a lot of this energy, taking sugar from the bloodstream — which may, in turn, lower blood sugar levels. Exercise may also help our bodies use insulin more efficiently.2 The American Diabetes Association recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of heart-pumping activity five days per week.3 (Children should have at least 60 minutes — or more — each day.)4
Benefits of exercise
Use insulin more efficiently
Control blood sugar levels
Improve heart health
Prevent weight gain
Improve blood flow
Lower blood pressure
When is the best time to exercise?
In the same way that when and what you eat can affect blood sugar levels, when you exercise, and what type of exercise you do may also make a difference in controlling diabetes. It’s important to plan ahead so that you know how your body responds to activity. For optimal health benefits, research shows that the best time to exercise, particularly if you have type 2 diabetes, is one to three hours after dinner.6
What type of exercise is best?
When it comes to managing diabetes, two types of exercise stand out in the crowd: aerobic and strength training.7
You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to be more active. Here are some examples of ways to add exercise into your day:8
- Walking briskly
- Playing tennis
- Playing sports
Whether you call it strength training, resistance exercise or weight lifting, focusing on a specific muscle group may help increase lean muscle mass and improve your body’s ability to utilize insulin.9 As part of your diabetes management plan, shoot for resistance or strength training at least twice a week.10
You can achieve this through:11
- Free weights
- Weight machines
- Resistance bands
How do I get started with exercising?
Check with your doctor
Talk to your doctor before starting any activity.12 When you start working out, you may need to change your meals or medications.
If exercise isn’t already part of your day, add it gradually. A good suggestion is to start off with walking. Slowly increase your time spent getting in steps. Work your way up.13
Create a routine
Schedule your activity at the same time so you know how your blood sugar is affected.14 It doesn’t take long before an activity becomes a habit.
Exercise safety tips
Exercise — as part of your overall diabetes management plan — may have immense benefits. There are, however, also a few risks. One is hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, which may happen if you exercise more than you normally do.15 Safely exercise with diabetes by following a few recommendations.
This is especially important if you take insulin. Keep a detailed record of your numbers. When you have an idea of how your blood sugar will respond to activity, you may help prevent spikes and dips in your levels.16 For example, if you know a certain activity causes your blood sugar to drop quickly, you may need a glass of juice, a piece of fruit, a small snack or a glucose tab17 before you exercise in order to avoid hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. If your blood sugar is running high before you exercise, you’ll want to check for ketones in your blood or urine.17 When you’re diabetic, ketones can be life threatening.18
Warning signs of hypoglycemia
If you have any of these symptoms during (or even several hours after) exercise, stop what you’re doing.19
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Back pain
- Shortness of breath
If you still have these symptoms even after you stop, call 911.
Dehydration can be a real concern with diabetes. Drinking water can help you rehydrate by getting rid of extra glucose through urine.20
It may be more difficult for injuries to heal when you have diabetes.21 Carefully check your feet before and after you exercise. Make sure your shoes fit comfortably and properly.22
Help break out of an exercise rut by hanging out with a friend. (It helps to have someone hold you accountable — and may make it more enjoyable.)8
Know your limits. If you may have nerve issues, you’ll likely want to find low-impact activities that won’t put pressure on your joints or feet.23
Staying on track with exercise
Whatever you choose to do to get moving, try to find joy in movement. Use this time reconnect with yourself. We believe your long-term health is worth the investment!
- The Role of Exercise in Diabetes | ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Diabetes management: How lifestyle, daily routine affect blood sugar | mayoclinic.org
- Fitness | diabetes.org
- How Much Exercise to Help Manage T1D and Optimize One’s Immune System? | jdrf.org
- Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity | mayoclinic.org
- Individuals with type 2 diabetes should exercise after dinner | sciencedaily.com
- Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes | care.diabetesjournals.org
- Get Active! Living with diabetes | cdc.gov
- Why Resistance Training is Great for Diabetes Management | diabetesstrong.com
- Current Guidelines | health.gov
- Strength training exercise benefits diabetes | diabetesaction.org
- Diabetes and exercise: When to monitor your blood sugar | mayoclinic.org
- Walking 101 (pdf) | heart.org
- Tips for Exercising Safely When You Have Diabetes | uofmhealth.org
- Hypoglycemia unawareness | mayoclinic.org
- Blood Sugar and Exercise | diabetes.org
- Exercise & Type 1 | diabetes.org
- Five Things to Know About Ketones | diabetes.org
- Hypoglycemia overview | mayoclinic.org
- Water and diabetes | diabetes.co.uk
- Diabetes and Foot Problems | niddk.nih.gov
- Diabetes and exercise | diabetes.co.uk
- Diabetes and Your Eyes, Heart, Nerves, Feet, and Kidneys | kidney.org