Smart Fitness Tips to Help Manage Diabetes

Stay motivated to control your diabetes with these exercise strategies.

Updated on April 11, 2023

an older fit Black man stands on a tennis court holding a tennis racket and ball
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Fitness Tips for People with Diabetes

You probably know that getting regular exercise can go a long way toward helping control type 2 diabetes—or preventing it in the first place. The trick is finding an exercise plan you can maintain.

For starters, it helps to remember all the great benefits of getting regular exercise: Not only can it help prevent insulin resistance and reduce blood sugar levels, it can also improve your cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, and even reduce stress.

Ready to start? Check with your healthcare provider (HCP) to make sure you are clear to kick up your fitness, and then try these six strategies to get moving, stay motivated, and manage your diabetes better than ever.

a closeup shot of a table with a workout log notebook, dumbbells, and a green smoothie
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Set Realistic Fitness Goals

Make exercise a habit by setting short- and long-term fitness goals. Sports psychologist Michelle Cleere, PhD, says short-term goals are the most important because they help build confidence and act as stepping stones to longer-term goals.

If you want to lose 12 pounds in 6 months, for example, your short-term goal might be to lose 2 pounds a month along with some other measurable goals, such as walking every day and doing resistance training with weights twice a week.

a happy middle aged white man with a beard sits on a yoga mat looking at his smartphone
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Make a Date with Exercise

One of the best ways to make exercise a part of your diabetes management routine is to schedule it. That means physical activity becomes a non-negotiable priority, like your regular check-in with the boss. (You can even do double duty and ask your boss to walk while you meet.)

If something always seems to get in the way of your fitness routine, consider slotting your exercise into the less hectic parts of your day. Do a brisk 15-minute workout—such as jumping rope or taking a fast walk around the neighborhood—first thing in the morning or during your lunch break. When you can't do your normal workout routine, add exercise breaks to your daily calendar.

a smiling Black woman in workout wear strikes a pose in a group fitness class
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Recruit a Workout Partner

Having a workout buddy can make your routine more fun and help you stay accountable to your exercise schedule. Fitness partners can also benefit from mutual support and a little friendly competition.

Look for someone who shares and supports your goals. Your fitness buddy can be a spouse, neighbor, coworker, or friend from the gym.

Don’t have a workout buddy? Even a virtual partner—say, a digital coach or an online community—can help boost your motivation and achievement. And don't underestimate the power of social networking sites to recruit faraway pals who share your goals or can at least offer support and hold you accountable.

business man and woman walking upstairs
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Do Mini-Workouts

The toughest thing about exercise often isn't doing it. It's finding time to do it. If you can't find 30- or 60-minute blocks of time each day to exercise, look for shorter time slots. Splitting your physical activity into 10-minute mini workouts throughout the day can be a smart way to get your time in to help manage your diabetes. It all adds up.

Just be sure to do a total of at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. For starters, walk wherever you can and—unless your HCP says otherwise—always take the stairs.

an older white woman with short white hair and a workout short smiles as she looks at her activity tracking smart watch
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Track Your Steps

Do you know how many steps you walk each day? If not, now is a great time to track your steps.

A 2022 research review published in The Lancet Digital Health reporting on nearly 164,000 people found that using activity trackers for exercise improved physical activity, body composition, and overall fitness. The benefit of tracking was equivalent to 1,800 additional steps a day (that’s nearly a mile), 40 minutes per day of additional time spent walking, and weight loss of more than 2 pounds on average. 

You can use a smart watch, a simple pedometer, or download a tracking app (like Sharecare, available for Android and iOS) to your smartphone. Aim for 10,000 steps a day for a significant health benefit. If you’re just starting, simply improving your step count by a little each day as you work your way up will help.

a fit middle aged Black woman in workout wear smiles as she holds a pickleball racket and ball
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Make Fitness Fun

Workouts don't have to feel like work to help control diabetes. If you find walking or running boring, try skating, a Zumba class, or salsa dance lessons to move your muscles in fun, new ways.

Or think back to activities you loved as a kid. Were you a Double Dutch champ? Buy a jump rope and start skipping. If you have kids, get them exercising, too, by teaching them to hula hoop.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes. Get Active! Last Reviewed: November 3, 2022.
Saint-Maurice PF, Troiano RP, Bassett DR Jr, et al. Association of Daily Step Count and Step Intensity With Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA. 2020;323(12):1151-1160.
Kettunen E, Kari T, Frank L. Digital Coaching Motivating Young Elderly People towards Physical Activity. Sustainability. 2022; 14(13):7718.
Ferguson T, Olds T, Curtis R, et al. Effectiveness of wearable activity trackers to increase physical activity and improve health: a systematic review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Lancet Digit Health. 2022;4(8):e615-e626.
American Diabetes Association. Stepping Up to Diabetes—The Power of Walking. Accessed April 11, 2023.

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