Exercising with Diabetes

01/31/2011 - American Diabetes Association

Exercising with Diabetes

What you need to know to exercise safely with diabetes

Those living with diabetes know that is important to exercise. Your doctors and nurses stress how exercising better controls blood sugars and weight, but you may wonder, “Where do I start”? For most people adding exercise to their lives can be overwhelming, but for those with diabetes you have to take extra care when exercising. Here are a few tips for starting a safe and lasting exercise routine:  

  • Find out which activities will be safe for you. Talk to your health care team about which activities will be safe for you. Your health care provider’s advice will depend on the condition of your heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, feet, and nervous system. For those with eye problems avoid heavy lifting unless told otherwise by your doctor.


  • Choose what you’ll do and make detailed plans. Think about what activities are realistic for you and choose the ones you think you can do. Start slowly. Your activity should be somewhat challenging but not overly difficult.


  • Allow yourself to get into a routine. Be flexible and don’t get discouraged.
  • Plan how you’ll reward yourself for your efforts. For example, some people treat themselves to a movie when they meet their goal for the week.


  • Learn your blood glucose response to exercise. Everyone’s blood glucose response to exercise is different. Checking your blood glucose before and after exercise can show you the benefits of activity.
  • If your blood glucose is high before you exercise (above 300), physical activity can make it go even higher, so be cautious about doing something active. For those with type 1 diabetes, if your fasting glucose level is above 250 and you have ketones in your urine, it’s best to avoid physical activity.


Learn how to avoid low blood glucose (hypoglycemia). - Keep in mind that low blood glucose can occur during or long after physical activity. Low blood glucose is most likely if you:

*Take insulin or diabetes pill
*Skip a meal
*Exercise a long time
*Exercise strenuously


  • If low blood glucose is interfering with your exercise routine, eating a snack before you exercise or adjusting your medication may help. Talk to your health care team about what is right for you.


  • During activity, check your blood glucose if you notice symptoms such as hunger, nervousness, shakiness, or sweating. If your blood glucose is 70 or below, have 2 to 5 glucose tablets, ½ cup (4 ounces) of fruit juice, or ½ cup of a regular soft drink to raise your blood glucose.


  • Always wear closed- toed shoes with clean and dry socks. Change them often if needed to prevent blisters


Regular exercise is a great way to take control of diabetes and give you the long happy life you deserve.


Information taken from the American Diabetes Association, 2008