Exercise and Diabetes

Exercise has many benefits. Since exercise helps lower blood sugars, it is important to know what steps to take to prevent blood sugars from dropping too low.

Exercise can improve your health in many ways. It can:

  • Help you lose and keep off weight
  • Make your heart and lungs work better
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Help lower your blood fats
  • Make your muscles stronger
  • Lower stress levels

If you have type 2 diabetes, exercise can also:

  • Help your body use its insulin better
  • Lower blood sugar levels
  • Lower your risk of having a heart attack

Some people with diabetes have other health problems. It is important to choose an exercise that is safe. Here are some tips:

  • Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Your doctor may want to check your heart, blood pressure and eye status. He/she can then tell you what types of exercise are best for you.
  • Check your blood sugar each time before exercise. If you take insulin or diabetes pills, you may need to have a snack before starting. If your blood sugar is too high, you should not do any exercise until it comes down. See below for more details.
  • If you have foot problems, make sure you: wear shoes that fit well; use insoles for more cushioning; wear soft socks; check your feet before and after exercise.
  • If you have no feeling in your feet or you have severe foot problems, try swimming, biking, rowing, chair exercises, and arm exercises.
  • If you have severe eye problems, avoid weight lifting, jogging, high-impact dance classes, and racquet sports.
  • Drink water before, during and after exercise.
  • Do not exercise in very cold or very hot weather.

How much should you exercise? Most people should do least 30 minutes of exercise 5 days per week. If you cannot do 30 minutes all at once, break it up into 2 or 3 "mini" sessions. People with type 2 diabetes should perform resistance training three times per week. You should also warm-up and cool-down for about 5-10 minutes. This includes slowly starting or stopping your exercise. Always stretch your muscles before beginning your exercise. You might want to have someone help you find a safe exercise program. Ask your doctor if he or she knows a good trainer. You can also check with local health clubs or a YMCA.

What about blood sugar and food? Exercise lowers blood sugar levels. If you take insulin or diabetes pills, your blood sugar levels may get too low during or after exercise. Some people may have a low blood sugar up to 24 hours later. You can help avoid this by checking your blood sugar and eating more food. The chart shows you when and how much to snack. Your snack should contain either starch or sugar. These foods turn to blood sugar quickly. You will need to take either 1 or 2 portions of a snack. Here are examples of a 1-portion snack:

  • cup of juice
  • 2 tablespoons of raisins
  • cup diet pudding
  • 1 small piece of fruit
  • 1 cup of light yogurt
  • 6 small hard candies
  • 3 glucose tablets

If you are exercising for more than one-hour, you may need to include some protein. This could be a piece of meat or cheese, 2 Tablespoons of peanut butter or cup of cottage cheese. If you take insulin or diabetes pills, use the chart below to guide you when to snack before exercising:

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If You Have Type 1 Diabetes... If your blood sugar is over 240 mg/dL and you have ketones in your urine, do not exercise. Wait until you blood sugar is below 240 mg/dL and the ketones go away.