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Exercise Tips for People with Diabetes

Working Out and Staying Fit Safely with Diabetes

You know you need to exercise to help manage your diabetes—whether it's type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. We've put together this quick list of tips about how to get the most out of exercise.

A blend of aerobic exercise, weight lifting, and stretching (eg, yoga) has tremendous benefits for your health. To learn more about why exercise is so beneficial to people living with diabetes, see our article about the benefits of exercise.

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when exercising with diabetes:

  • Don't overdo it. Exercise that's too demanding can strain weak eye blood vessels if you have retinopathy—a common diabetes complication. Strenuous exercise can also injure blood vessels in your feet (and you should be taking good care of your feet, especially if you have diabetic neuropathy affecting the nerves in your feet).
  • Dress for the weather when exercising outdoors. Wear breathable clothing, especially if it's hot outside. Also, wear comfortable gym shoes and socks to help prevent foot injuries or wounds.
  • Drink plenty of water. Stay well hydrated before, during, and after your workout.
  • Exercise with a workout buddy when you can. This is particular important if you exercise outdoors at night or live in a remote area.
  • Take a snack with you when you exercise. A small box of raisins, glucose gel, or glucose tablets can provide instant energy.
  • Warm up and cool down each time you exercise. A short warm up routine gets your body heated, while a cool down routine signals your body to return to a resting heart rate and breathing rate.
  • Wear a medical ID bracelet. In case of an emergency, this shows others that you have diabetes.
  • Work with a personal trainer. A personal trainer who has experience working with people with diabetes can show you safe exercises to do with your condition.

A Note for People with Type 1 Diabetes
Blood glucose levels can fluctuate when you exercise. Stay on top of your blood glucose levels by monitoring them carefully before and after you workout. This can also help you determine how much insulin to take for future workouts.

If your blood glucose levels are <100 mg/dL before you exercise, eat a carbohydrate-rich snack. However, avoid exercise completely if your fasting blood glucose levels are >250 mg/dL and ketones are present (meaning you have diabetic ketoacidosis) or if your blood glucose levels are >300 mg/dL, regardless of whether ketones are present.1 In either of those scenarios, go to the hospital immediately.

Exercise to Manage Diabetes
Exercise is extremely beneficial, but if you've been inactive for a long time, it's important not to rush into your workouts. Start with low-impact exercises, such as light walking or stretching. Gradually, you can build up to doing more advanced exercise, such as jogging and lifting weights.

As always, talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine—even if it seems basic. He or she can give you advice on what exercises to do as well as help design an exercise program to fit your needs.

Your doctor may also recommend certain diagnostic tests, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) to evaluate your heart health, before he or she gives you the green light to exercise.

When done regularly and safely, exercise can be a highly effective way to manage type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. As part of a healthy lifestyle, exercise can help you stay in shape and live well with diabetes.

Updated on: October 28, 2015
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