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Diabetes and Exercise

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

How will exercise help me manage diabetes?

Physical activity, such as exercise, can help keep your blood sugar level steady or improve insulin resistance. Activity can help decrease your risk for heart disease, and help you lose weight. Exercise can also help lower your A1c or keep it at goal. Your diabetes care team will help you create an exercise plan. The plan will be based on the type of diabetes you have and your starting fitness level.

What are some tips to help me create and meet my exercise goals?

  • Set a goal for 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity each week. Aerobic activity helps your heart stay strong. Aerobic activity includes walking, bicycling, dancing, swimming, and raking leaves. Spread aerobic activity over 3 to 5 days. Do not take more than 2 days off in a row. It is best to do at least 10 minutes at a time and 30 minutes each day. You can work up to these goals. Remember that any activity is better than no activity. Over time, you can make exercise more intense or last longer. You can also add more days of exercise as your fitness level improves. Your diabetes care team can help you make a step-by-step plan to achieve your goals.
  • Set a strength training goal of 2 to 3 times a week. Take at least 1 day off in between strength training sessions. Strength training helps you keep the muscles you have and build new muscles. Strength training includes lifting weights, climbing stairs, yoga, and tai chi.
    Strength Training for Adults
  • Older adults should include balance training 2 to 3 times each week. These include walking backwards, standing on one foot, and walking heel to toe in a straight line.
    Walking Backward for Seniors
    Balance on 1 Foot
    Walking in a Straight Line for Seniors

What are some other healthy activity tips?

  • Stretch before and after you exercise to prevent injury.
    Warm up and Cool Down
  • Drink water or liquids that do not contain sugar before, during, and after exercise. Ask your dietitian or healthcare provider which liquids you should drink when you exercise.
  • Do not sit for longer than 30 minutes at a time. If you cannot walk around, at least stand up. This will help you stay active and keep your blood circulating. Try to be active throughout your day.
    Ways to Be Physically Active

What do I need to know about exercise and my blood sugar levels?

Check your blood sugar level before and after exercise, if you use insulin. Healthcare providers may tell you to change the amount of insulin you take or food you eat.

  • If your blood sugar level is high, check your blood or urine for ketones before you exercise. Do not exercise if your blood sugar level is high and you have ketones.
  • If your blood sugar level is less than 100 mg/dL, have a carbohydrate snack before you exercise. Examples are 4 to 6 crackers, ½ banana, 8 ounces (1 cup) of milk, or 4 ounces (½ cup) of juice.
    Ways to Raise Your Blood Sugar

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have chest pain or shortness of breath.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a low blood sugar level and it does not improve with treatment. Symptoms are trouble thinking, a pounding heartbeat, and sweating.
  • Your blood sugar level is above 240 mg/dL and does not come down within 15 minutes of treatment.
  • You have blurred or double vision.
  • Your breath has a fruity, sweet smell, or your breathing is shallow.

When should I call my doctor or diabetes care team?

  • You have ketones in your blood or urine.
  • You have a fever.
  • Your blood sugar levels are higher than your target goals.
  • You often have low blood sugar levels.
  • Your skin is red, dry, warm, or swollen.
  • You have a wound that does not heal.
  • You have trouble coping with diabetes, or you feel anxious or depressed.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.