Diabetes and exercise
Exercise will help your diabetes
Exercise is an important part of managing your diabetes. If you are obese or overweight, exercise can help you manage your weight.
Exercise can also help lower your blood sugar without medicines. It reduces your risk of heart disease and stress.
But be patient. It may take several months of exercising before you see changes in your health.
Talk to your doctor first
Your health care provider should make sure your exercise program is safe for you.
Call your doctor if you feel faint, have chest pain, or feel short of breath when you exercise.
Call your doctor if you feel pain or numbness in your feet. Also call if you have sores or blisters on your feet.
Make sure you call your doctor if your blood sugar gets too low or too high during the day.
If you take medicines that lower your blood sugar, exercise can make your blood sugar go too low. Talk to your doctor or nurse about how to take your medicines when you exercise.
Some types of exercise can make your eyes worse if you already have diabetic eye disease. Get an eye exam before starting a new exercise program.
Start with walking. If you are out of shape, walk for 5 to 10 minutes a day.
Try to set a goal of fast walking. You should do this for 30 to 45 minutes, at least 5 days a week. In order to lose weight, the amount of exercise may need to be greater. So do more if you can. Swimming or exercise classes are also good.
Wear a bracelet or necklace that says you have diabetes. Tell coaches and exercise partners that you have diabetes. Always have fast-acting sources of sugar with you, such as juice or hard candy. Carry emergency phone numbers with you, as well.
Drink plenty of water. Do this before, during, and after exercising. Try to exercise at the same time of day, for the same amount of time, and at the same level. This will make your blood sugar easier to control. If your schedule is less regular, exercising at different times of the day is still better than not exercising at all.
Your blood sugar and exercise
Check your blood sugar before you exercise. Also, check it during exercise if you're working out for more than 45 minutes.
Check your blood sugar again right after exercise, and later on. Exercise can cause your blood sugar to drop for up to 12 hours after you are done.
If you use insulin, ask your doctor when you should eat before you exercise. Also, find out how to adjust your dose when you exercise.
Do not inject insulin in a part of your body that you are exercising.
Keep a snack nearby that can raise your blood sugar quickly. Examples are:
- 5 or 6 small hard candies
- 1 tablespoon of sugar, plain or dissolved in water
- 1 tablespoon of honey or syrup
- 3 or 4 glucose tablets
- 1/2 can of regular, non-diet soda
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of fruit juice
Have a larger snack if you will be exercising more than usual. You can also have more frequent snacks. You may need to adjust your medicine if you are planning unusual exercise.
If exercise frequently causes your blood sugar to be low, talk with your doctor. You may need to lower the dose of your medicine.
Your feet and exercise
Always check your feet for any problems before and after exercise. You might not feel pain in your feet because of your diabetes. You may not notice a sore or blister on your foot. Call your doctor if you notice any changes on your feet. Small problems can become serious if they go untreated.
Wear socks that keep moisture away from your feet. Also, wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes.
Kirk S. The diabetic athlete. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 21.
Marwick TH, Hordern MD, Miller T, et al., on behalf of the American Heart Association Exercise, Cardiac Rehabilitation, and Prevention Committee of the Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young; Council on Cardiovascular Nursing; Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism; and the Interdisciplinary Council on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research. Exercise training for type 2 diabetes mellitus: impact on cardiovascular risk: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;119:3244-3262.
Reviewed By: Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.