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Get Active Safely With Diabetes

Exercise is an important part of a diabetes care plan. Jump-start your routine with these tips.

man smiling holding a tennis racket and tennis ball

If you have diabetes, it doesn’t have to stop you from being active. Exercise is safe for most people with diabetes. But having diabetes can affect exercise recommendations, so it’s important to speak with your doctor to find out how much and what types of activities are safe.

Adults with diabetes should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week. Try to spread your activity over at least three days, without missing more than two days in a row. Activity can be done in as little as 10 minutes at a time!

You should also do resistance training at least twice a week (on nonconsecutive days), provided you don’t have other health issues that limit your ability to participate in this type of exercise. A special note: everyone, including people who have diabetes, should limit sedentary time to no more than 30 minutes at a time.

Start slowly and ease your way into a routine. Start with 5 to 10 minutes of exercise most days of the week and increase the time and intensity until you meet your goals.

Staying active may help you:

  • Lower blood glucose (sugar) and improve your A1C
  • Reduce blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Improve your body’s ability to use insulin
  • Lose weight or stay at a healthy weight
  • Improve your mood
  • Keep your heart strong
  • Stay flexible
  • Strengthen your muscles and bones
  • Sleep better

Here are some tips to help get you started:

  • Wear comfortable shoes that support your feet and fit well. And examine your feet daily for sores or blisters.
  • Schedule time to exercise. If you don’t have 30 minutes to spare, split your workout into three 10-minute sessions.
  • Have a plan. Ask your doctor if you should check your blood sugar levels before, during and after exercise. Your doctor can tell you what to watch for if your blood sugar gets too low or too high. Ask about ways to avoid these symptoms, and what to do if they happen. If you have low blood sugar, you may feel weak or shaky, confused, irritable, worried, hungry, tired or sweaty. If you have high blood sugar, you may feel very thirsty and have frequent urination. You should also talk with your doctor about checking your urine for ketones, chemicals your body might make when your blood sugar level is too high and your insulin level is too low. Keep water and healthy snacks handy when you exercise. Wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace in case of an emergency.
  • Buddy up: invite coworkers, friends or family members to join you for walks or other activities. Being accountable to others may help you stay on course.
  • Keep track of your activities and accomplishments. Set goals for yourself and check them off as you accomplish each one.
  • Include activities such as walking, biking, swimming or water aerobics, dance, group exercise classes, stretching or lifting weights.

By Susan G. Warner, Contributing Writer

American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes–2019. Accessed February 13, 2019.
American Diabetes Association. Physical activity is important Accessed April 5, 2019.
National Diabetes Education Program. Diabetes Diet, Eating, & Physical Activity. Accessed April 5, 2019.

Last Updated: February 13, 2019