A Diabetic’s Guide to Exercise

How a physically active lifestyle can put diabetes in its place.

When diabetics fail to take care of themselves, a host of negative long-term health problems are possible. However, if you’re living with diabetes, you don’t have to cave into the myriad of problems.

By taking prescribed medications and eating a healthy diet, you can go a long way toward controlling your blood sugar highs and lows. But is that enough? Not if you want maximum control over your diabetes. To do that, you’ll need exercise.

Think diabetes is an excuse to stay away from the gym? Quite the opposite is true, because diabetes is just one more reason to seek regular physical activity. Exercising with diabetes, however, does present unique challenges. Here’s what you should know.

Why Exercise?

Good news for diabetics: physical activity helps lower your blood glucose levels and improves the way your body uses insulin. It also lowers blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and your risk of heart disease, stroke, and nerve damage. Exercise helps you lose weight; gives you more energy; keeps your bones, joints, and heart strong; and reduces your stress level.

Perhaps you’re a borderline type 2 diabetic. Start exercising! Studies have shown that losing five to seven percent of your body weight (10 to 15 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds) may delay the onset of the disease or prevent it altogether.

What Exercise?

Not sure what type of exercise safe for a diabetic? Take heart! Unless you have complications from diabetes (eye problems, kidney disease, heart disease, or foot problems) or high ketone levels in your blood or urine, exercise is safe. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (brisk walking, hiking, swimming, bicycling, or dancing) each week, strength training exercises (hand weights, weight machines, elastic bands) three times each week, as well as flexibility exercises (stretching) several times each week.

How to Exercise

Diabetics must take certain precautions when it comes to exercise. Before beginning a new exercise program, always talk with your doctor. That allows you to get the education you need on how and when to exercise and whether you’ll need to adjust your medications before exercising.

If you have type 1 diabetes and your blood glucose levels are high and your insulin levels are too low, your body will produce chemicals call ketones. A high level of ketones in your blood or urine will make you sick. Exercising with high levels of ketones can make your blood glucose level even higher. Therefore, avoid high intensity exercise if your ketone level is high.

On the other hand, if you have type 2 diabetes with a high blood glucose level and no ketones in your blood or urine, light to moderate intensity exercise may actually work to lower your glucose levels.

Exercise Risks

Since low blood glucose levels are a concern during exercise if you take insulin or medications that cause low levels, it’s important to track your blood glucose levels before, during, and after exercise. These records will show you how your body reacts to physical activity so you’ll be able to prevent dangerous blood glucose fluctuations.

If low glucose levels are a risk for you, wear your medical ID bracelet and keep glucose tablets or fruit juice handy for a quick sip. And remember that low glucose levels can hang around or show up hours after you’re done working out.

Need some guidelines to follow when it comes to exercise and blood sugar levels? You got it!

Lower than 100 mg/dL: Too low to exercise. Eat a high-carb snack (fruit or crackers) before working out or after working out if levels are low following exercise.

100–250 mg/dL: A safe range prior to exercise.

250+ mg/dL: Take precautions. Take a urine sample and test for ketones. Don’t exercise until your ketone level is normal.

300+ mg/dL: Dangerous to exercise. Wait until your glucose level drops before working out.

Strange Findings

A recent study found that overweight and obese individuals with diabetes did not reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke through exercise and diet. But there were perks, as those who exercised and watched their diet took substantially less medication to manage their diabetes.

Healthier You Ecourse

Enter your email below to sign up.

Subscribe to my newsletter and get health and fitness articles, tips, recipes, and special offers. In order to receive course materials, please click yes.​ You can unsubscribe at any time. 

We respect your privacy. Your info will never be shared.