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How to Exercise When You Have Diabetes

Don't forget these safety precautions before your next workout.

Medically reviewed in May 2021

You know exercise is key to better living with diabetes. It enhances insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar levels. But if you have diabetes, you need to take extra safety precautions whenever you work out.

Check with your doc. If you're overweight or have high blood pressure, a heart condition, or vision or foot problems, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise routine. Ask which kind of exercise -- and how much -- is safe for you. To prevent you from overdoing it, your doctor may ask you to break up your daily workout into mini sessions. 

Measure your blood sugar level around exercise. If your blood sugar is too high or too low, or if you have ketones in your blood or urine, avoid strenuous physical activity. In some people with diabetes, exercise can actually worsen high or low blood sugar. Ask your doctor if you should measure your blood sugar around exercise.

Fuel up. Eat something light before you exercise. Keep a carb-rich snack, such as fruit, crackers, or rice cakes (or glucose tablets) on hand in case your blood sugar drops too low.

Hydrate. Diabetes can inhibit the brain's signal for thirst and lead to dehydration. Be sure to drink extra water before, during, and after exercise.

Avoid hot weather workouts. Some folks with diabetes lose the ability to regulate body temperature. (This is caused when diabetes disrupts the body's autonomic nervous system, which inhibits normal blood flow to the skin and the ability to sweat.) Avoid heat exhaustion by exercising indoors on very hot days.

Take care of your feet. Diabetes can cause numbness and decreased blood circulation. Wear shoes that fit well, never exercise barefoot, and inspect your feet before and after every workout. Treat any blisters, abrasions, or injuries promptly.

Wear a medical ID tag whenever you exercise. If an emergency arises, it will alert caregivers that you have diabetes.

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