Exercising with Diabetes

The importance of exercise for type 1 and type 2 diabetes

diabetes exerciseExercise is paramount for good health and for managing your diabetes, plus it can be incredibly fun. Whether you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, exercise plays a significant role in controlling your condition. Exercising with diabetes assists with maintaining your goal blood glucose levels, and it can help insulin or diabetes medications work more efficiently.

Exercise also works to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check, helping to prevent long-term diabetes complications.

In addition, exercise can actually help stabilize and regulate your blood glucose levels for hours—even after you stop exercising. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should strive for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (eg, brisk walking) per week and 2 or more days a week doing muscle-strengthening exercises (eg, lifting weights).1 In addition, a well-rounded exercise routine should also incorporate flexibility (eg, yoga) exercises.

But you don't have to fit in all your exercise requirements in on one day. In fact, you can break your workouts into smaller increments throughout the day. For example, instead of walking for 30 minutes straight, break it up into three 10-minute segments.

If you're new to exercise, you can make an appointment with a physical therapist or personal trainer. They can teach you how to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle, as well as specific exercises you can do to help you manage your condition.

We've broken this article into 2 sections: exercising with type 1 diabetes and exercising with type 2 diabetes.

Exercising with Type 1 Diabetes
When you exercise, your body—more specifically, your muscles—uses glucose as fuel (energy). Exercise has a similar effect as insulin on the glucose in your body: Exercise can enhance the absorption of glucose into your cells, helping better regulate your blood glucose levels.

Exercising can help prevent long-term diabetes complications. And in some cases, the amount of insulin you use can actually be decreased when you exercise regularly.

Here are some special considerations for exercising with type 1 diabetes:

  • It's all about balance: Balancing the amount of exercise you get with the food you eat and the insulin you take can help you work toward your blood glucose level goals. It's also important to consider when and how much you exercise. For example, if you exercise in the morning, eating a healthy, balanced breakfast can help fuel your workout and make it easier for you to maintain normal blood glucose levels. For hundreds of diabetes-friendly foods and recipes, visit our Recipes Center.
  • Monitor your blood glucose levels: To help you manage type 1 diabetes, you'll monitor your blood glucose levels before and after exercise to help you determine how your body responds to exercise. If your blood glucose levels are 100 mg/dl or lower before exercise, you should have a snack to raise them before starting your workout.2
  • Carry a snack: A good thing to keep in mind when exercising with type 1 diabetes is to carry a light carbohydrate-rich snack, such as a granola bar, in case you need immediate energy. Or you can carry glucose tablets you can get from a certified diabetes educator. Also, be sure to drink lots of water during your workouts.

Exercising with Type 2 Diabetes
With type 2 diabetes, exercising regularly is one of the best ways to control your condition, especially if you need to lose weight. Exercise helps you manage your type 2 diabetes, especially your blood glucose levels.

Below are some general exercise tips for type 2 diabetes:

  • Get motivated—and make it fun: For fresh, fun ways to get moving, incorporate a variety of activities. Sign up for an exercise class at your community gym or rent exercise books or DVDs at your library. Always wanted to take up dancing? Now's your time to sign up for a class at your local dance studio.
  • Find the time: Write down your workouts just as you would a meeting or any other appointment you make. But make this appointment with yourself—you're worth it!
  • Be more active throughout the day: Park your car further away from the store when you're out shopping, and take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. These extra steps really add up.

For more tips on exercising with type 2 diabetes, read our article on how to lose weight (if you need to), how to navigate the various exercise options, and how to get started.

Exercise and Diabetes
Regular exercise can help control and treat type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. If you haven't already, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise routine for type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. Your doctor can help you find an exercise plan that fits with your lifestyle.

Updated on: December 8, 2015
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Diabetes and Exercise: Walking