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Tips for Physical Activity When Living with Diabetes

When you have diabetes, regular physical activity is one of your best allies. It might help lower your blood glucose and your body might be able to use insulin better. It also can help with weight management, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and might help reduce risk for heart disease and stroke. Being active also can enhance feelings of well-being, relieves stress, improves circulation and builds strength and flexibility.

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You don’t have to invest hours at the gym to reap the benefits of physical activity. The recommendation is for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week—and you can even accumulate this amount in shorter time periods of 10 or 15 minutes. If you are managing your weight, you might need even more minutes of activity each day.

Getting Started

  • Check with your diabetes care team before you begin any new exercise routine.
  • Pick the right activities. Choose enjoyable activities that suit your schedule and fitness level. Walking is great, especially if you're new to being active—and it's easy to work walking into your day. You can go for a planned "power" walk or squeeze in short stretches during the day by parking far from the door, getting off the bus a few blocks sooner than usual or walking to the store instead of driving. There are plenty of other options, too, such as swimming, biking, dancing, strength training—even housework and gardening.
  • Commit to it. Make exercise a priority by scheduling it right on your calendar. Get support from family members and friends by asking them to work out with you or just cheer you on.

Special Tips When You Have Diabetes

  • Check in with your diabetes care team. Before you begin a physical activity program, ask your doctor or Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) whether some activities are better for you than others. Your CDE or Registered Dietitian (RD) will also help you time your meals and snacks and adjust your medication schedule to make sure your blood glucose doesn't get too low during or after exercise. Find help with Diabetes Meal Planning.
  • Time it right. The best time to exercise is one to three hours after you eat. Don't exercise if you're fasting, it's been longer than four hours since you've eaten or if your blood glucose is low or high before starting.
  • Be prepared. Blood glucose goes down during physical activity and afterward for up to several hours, so be alert to any changes. Keep an extra blood glucose meter, test strips, portable snacks and blood glucose tablets nearby or in your workout bag. Consider wearing a diabetes identification bracelet or shoe tag at all times, but especially when exercising.
  • Stay hydrated. Getting dehydrated can negatively affect your blood glucose levels. Make sure to drink enough fluids before, during and after you exercise, especially in very hot or cold temperatures when your body loses more fluid. Water is always a good choice. Your CDE or RD can help you plan what, when and how much to drink when you work out.
  • Care for your feet. To keep your feet dry and avoid blisters, wear shoes that fit properly and well-fitting polyester or cotton-polyester blend socks. Check your feet for blisters or other problems before and after you exercise.


physical activity when living with diabetes
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