Stay Fit – 6 Exercise Tips for People with Diabetes

Aerobic exercise is best for diabetes.

Stay Fit – 6 Exercise Tips for People with Diabetes

Few things can help with both weight loss and diabetes management like exercise. Short bursts of intense activity force the liver to burn glucose for energy, and regular moderate exercise for over 30 minutes at a time, like walking or jogging, helps with long-term blood sugar control. While the general guidelines are the same for everyone, here are some additional exercise tips for people with diabetes to help them get the most out of their daily fitness routine:

Discuss with Your Doctor

Aside from a daily brisk walk, always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise regime. Your doctor will assess you for any cardiovascular or nervous complications, provide feedback and recommendations on suitable activities based on your health condition, and adjust your meal plan, insulin, or diabetes medication dosage accordingly. This is particularly important to minimize the risk of hypoglycemia because blood glucose levels generally lower with physical activity.

Check Your Blood Sugar

Make it a habit to check your blood sugar before and after every workout, or every half hour if the workouts are longer than an hour, to help gauge any future medication, insulin, and dietary adjustments, and let you know if a snack is required to stabilize glucose levels. However, some people may experience temporary spikes right after exercise due to increased adrenaline production; particularly for short, intensive workouts.

For most people with diabetes, a reading below 4.0 mmol/l after exercising indicates low blood sugar, in which case a fast-acting carbohydrate source like raisins or lifesaver candies should be consumed. However, avoid exercising later in the day to prevent overnight hypoglycemia if you have type 1 diabetes.

Be Foot Wise

Wear cotton or cotton-polyester socks and supportive athletic shoes to prevent blisters and accidental foot injuries, particularly if you have diabetic neuropathy. Also, choose the right shoes for the right activity to provide adequate foot support and minimize the risk of injury. Check and clean your feet daily, and inform your doctor in case of any new foot injuries.

Carry Carb Fuel

Blood sugar drops during exercise increase the risk of hypoglycemia and sudden fainting, so always pack an emergency carbohydrate snack, fruit juice, or glucose tablets and keep them within reach. Consume immediately if you notice signs of hypoglycemia; like dizziness, lightheadedness, chest tightness, pain or discomfort, and/or nausea.


Your exercise pack should also contain at least one 275 ml bottle of water to remain appropriately hydrated and avoid dry mouth, chest tightness, and cardiac stress. While the general recommendation is drinking before, during, and right after exercise, increase intake if exercising in hot weather.

Strength Train Twice a Week

As previously mentioned, short and intense bursts of exercise burn glucose at a faster and higher rate. So incorporate some amount of strength training, like push-ups, weightlifting, resistance training, lunges, and squats in your daily exercise regime twice a week.

For Diabetic Neuropathy, Retinopathy and Nephropathy

  • People with diabetic nerve damage, particularly in the legs and feet, should avoid prolonged walking, jogging, and stepping exercises as they increase the risk of falling and injuries. Opt instead for short duration swimming and stationary cycling. However, refrain from swimming in case of foot ulcers.
  • People in the early or intermediate stages of diabetic eye damage should choose low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, and stationary cycling over strenuous high-impact activity as it may promote further eye damage by increasing blood pressure.
  • Similarly, those with diabetes-induced kidney damage should avoid all activities that raise systolic blood pressure to over 180-200 mmHg, unless blood pressure is continuously monitored by a professional during exercise.

Although mild soreness is normal, stop exercising immediately if you experience any hypoglycemic symptoms, check your blood sugar, heart rate and blood pressure, and take a glucose-raising snack if needed. Resume exercise only if your condition stabilizes to pre-exercise level, or discontinue until a proper medical consultation if your condition remains the same.

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