Advertisement

A Beginner's Guide to Exercising With Diabetes

Exercise is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle—use these 9 tips to get started.
Undeniable Benefits
1 / 10

Regular exercise is key to living healthy, and it's especially important for people with diabetes because it helps manage diabetes risks and symptoms. The American Diabetes Association encourages physical activity to improve overall health, protect against heart disease, and fight depression. Exercise can also lower blood glucose levels, increase energy levels, and help maintain a healthy weight. The good news is you don't have to be a world-record runner or body builder to enjoy these perks. If you've been sedentary until now, exercise might seem intimidating. But getting started isn't as hard as you think.

Medically reviewed in December 2019.

Talk to Your Doctor
2 / 10

Before starting a new routine, schedule a doctor visit to assess your overall health. A physical exam will help you know your numbers, including weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Learn your target blood glucose levels and any possible medical limitations to your exercise routine. The American Diabetes Association suggests talking to your healthcare team about an adjusted eating plan, your insulin, and any possible oral diabetes medication you might need to keep blood glucose levels healthy. Your doctor can also advise you on safe exercises and exercises you should avoid. Knowing these benchmarks, capabilities, and limits can help you avoid injury and stay healthy.

Set Realistic Goals
3 / 10

Goal setting is a great way to get motivated. Fitness expert Jason Karp, PhD, says goals should be challenging, but attainable. "Goal setting is very important because it gives people direction," says Karp, author of Running for Women. "If a goal is unattainable or unrealistic, that only leads to disappointment." Whether your goal is to run a 5K or lose 10 pounds, consider your abilities and limitations. And don't compare yourself or your goals to others. Focus on what you can do. Once you've set a goal, plan smaller goals to keep you motivated along the way. Each time you meet a short-term goal, it's a win that can help you stay motivated to reach your overall goal.

Plan Ahead
4 / 10

A successful exercise routine takes planning. The more you plan, the easier it'll be to make exercising a true lifestyle change. For people with diabetes, it's important to plan nutrition strategies. Think about what foods to eat before, during, and after exercise. The American Diabetes Association suggests carrying a source of carbs in your blood sugar runs low, and to have water and snacks handy during your activity. Prepare your workout clothes and shoes the night before. Pack your gym bag with a change of clothes and other post-workout essentials. Finally, map out your exercise plan. Know which days you'll work out and what exercises you'll do.

Start Slow
5 / 10

Many beginners try to do too much too soon. "If you're new to exercise as a whole, then you need to be sure to start simple and start smart," says Jonathan Penney, a National Academy of Sports Medicine trainer. Pushing yourself too hard can lead to injury and even exhaustion. Orthopedic surgeon Vonda Wright, MD, advises beginners to increase exercise levels gradually. Start with just 10-15 minutes of exercise a day. If you've been sedentary for a while, walking may be the best beginner exercise for you. Over time your fitness level will grow and you'll be able to increase your distance, endurance, and intensity. No matter what exercise you choose, start slow and give yourself time to adapt.

Wear a Medical ID Tag
6 / 10

Cell phones and driver's licenses are good to have when you work out, but people with diabetes should also wear a medical identification tag or diabetes bracelet. "It is wise to carry some form of identification showing that you are diabetic," says registered dietitian Shannon Butler, who has experience with diabetes education and self-management. Medical IDs will let emergency personnel know that you have diabetes should you have a complication or need assistance during exercise. This will help you get the best treatment and support. It's also a sign to others that people with diabetes can have healthy, active lives with the proper plan and care.

Get Social Support
7 / 10

If you're struggling to stay motivated, find social support. Try group exercises with family and friends. Get your best friend or partner to join you for a workout. "Working out with friends can be fun," says Sharecare fitness expert and personal trainer, Michelle Cleere, PhD. "If you're starting an exercise program you should have fun!" Even one workout partner can make a big difference. Cleere says working out with friends and family provides accountability and positive reinforcement. If your best friend or partner can't join you, reach out to your social network. Share your accomplishments in your social network or ask for extra encouragement to get the boost you need.

Track Your Progress
8 / 10

Whether you log exercise through a fitness watch, a phone app, or in a handwritten journal, it's important to keep track of your workouts. "It is harder to have a clear vision when you are not tracking your progress," says Jeremiah Forster, a fitness expert and National Academy of Sports Medicine elite trainer. Fitness trackers and workout logs can show how far you've come or point out areas that need improvement. It can be motivating to watch your progress over time. Log everything from the workouts you do to how you feel and what you eat. These are all important records to keep not only to show your accomplishments but for monitoring your health.

Monitor Your Blood Sugar
9 / 10

If you're new to exercise and have diabetes or prediabetes, pay close attention to your blood glucose level. Butler advises testing your blood before exercising. If your blood glucose is below 90 mg/dL, you may need a pre-exercise snack, and you may need to take special precautions if it is above 250 mg/dL. Ask your doctor for instructions. Also, avoid insulin injections before exercise because it may increase insulin absorption and cause low blood sugar levels. Keep in mind that exercise can influence your blood glucose levels up to 24 hours after the activity. "If you're increasing your everyday activity, you may require less insulin in the long-term because exercise can increase insulin sensitivity." Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

Don't Forget Rest Days
10 / 10

Everybody needs a break sometimes–even from exercise. Exercise rest days are just as important as workout days. Rest days are key for muscle recovery and injury prevention. Use rest days to get more sleep or to focus on mental rest from stress and fatigue. Remember that exercising–like all things in life–should be about moderation. Balance light workouts with more challenging workouts depending on your abilities. This healthy mix of workout days and rest days will help your body stay healthy and feel energized for your next workout.

Interactive Patient Journey: Becoming a Healthy Diabetic
Interactive Patient Journey: Becoming a Healthy Diabetic
Interactive Doctor Discussion Tool: Type 2 Diabetes
Interactive Doctor Discussion Tool: Type 2 Diabetes
An Interactive Journey Into Diabetes
An Interactive Journey Into Diabetes
Everything You Need to Know About Type 2 Diabetes
Everything You Need to Know About Type 2 DiabetesEverything You Need to Know About Type 2 DiabetesEverything You Need to Know About Type 2 DiabetesEverything You Need to Know About Type 2 Diabetes
A Beginner's Guide to Exercising With Diabetes
A Beginner's Guide to Exercising With DiabetesA Beginner's Guide to Exercising With DiabetesA Beginner's Guide to Exercising With DiabetesA Beginner's Guide to Exercising With Diabetes
Quality Sleep Impacts Blood Sugar
Quality Sleep Impacts Blood Sugar
4 Lessons From Cities With Low Diabetes Incidences
4 Lessons From Cities With Low Diabetes Incidences
How Type 2 Diabetes Can Change the Heart
How Type 2 Diabetes Can Change the Heart
4 Things to Know About Diabetic Heart Disease
4 Things to Know About Diabetic Heart Disease
3 Diabetes Numbers That Are as Important as A1C
3 Diabetes Numbers That Are as Important as A1C
My Diabetes Story: David
My Diabetes Story: David
Good Carb, Bad Carb: Do You Know the Difference?
Good Carb, Bad Carb: Do You Know the Difference?
Protect Your Teeth and Gums From Diabetes
Protect Your Teeth and Gums From Diabetes
Eating Out with Diabetes: 7 Mistakes to Avoid
Eating Out with Diabetes: 7 Mistakes to AvoidEating Out with Diabetes: 7 Mistakes to AvoidEating Out with Diabetes: 7 Mistakes to AvoidEating Out with Diabetes: 7 Mistakes to Avoid
6 Bad Habits to Nix If You Have Diabetes
6 Bad Habits to Nix If You Have Diabetes6 Bad Habits to Nix If You Have Diabetes6 Bad Habits to Nix If You Have Diabetes6 Bad Habits to Nix If You Have Diabetes
A Guide to Diabetes-Friendly Movie Snacks
A Guide to Diabetes-Friendly Movie Snacks
What to Know—and What to Forget—About Diabetes
What to Know—and What to Forget—About DiabetesWhat to Know—and What to Forget—About DiabetesWhat to Know—and What to Forget—About DiabetesWhat to Know—and What to Forget—About Diabetes
How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
9 Keys to Preventing and Treating Diabetic Foot Issues
9 Keys to Preventing and Treating Diabetic Foot Issues9 Keys to Preventing and Treating Diabetic Foot Issues9 Keys to Preventing and Treating Diabetic Foot Issues9 Keys to Preventing and Treating Diabetic Foot Issues
3 Easy Ways to Manage Your Diabetes
3 Easy Ways to Manage Your Diabetes
What to Do If Your Blood Sugar Drops
What to Do If Your Blood Sugar Drops
The Common Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
The Common Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
Get a Good Night’s Sleep for Better Blood Sugar
Get a Good Night’s Sleep for Better Blood Sugar
6 Foods That Won’t Cause Your Blood Sugar to Spike
6 Foods That Won’t Cause Your Blood Sugar to Spike6 Foods That Won’t Cause Your Blood Sugar to Spike6 Foods That Won’t Cause Your Blood Sugar to Spike6 Foods That Won’t Cause Your Blood Sugar to Spike
Living Well With Type 2 Diabetes
Living Well With Type 2 Diabetes
Your Diabetes-Friendly Shopping List
Your Diabetes-Friendly Shopping List
How Type 2 Diabetes Affects Your Organs
How Type 2 Diabetes Affects Your Organs
Know Your Risk: Diabetic Heart Disease
Know Your Risk: Diabetic Heart Disease
5 Ways High Blood Sugar Damages the Body
5 Ways High Blood Sugar Damages the Body5 Ways High Blood Sugar Damages the Body5 Ways High Blood Sugar Damages the Body5 Ways High Blood Sugar Damages the Body
How Diabetes Can Impact Your Sex Life
How Diabetes Can Impact Your Sex Life
Which Type of Exercise Is Best to Manage My Diabetes?
Which Type of Exercise Is Best to Manage My Diabetes?
How Glucose and Insulin Help Your Body Function
How Glucose and Insulin Help Your Body Function
Type 2 Diabetes: 5 Simple Strategies for Healthier Habits
Type 2 Diabetes: 5 Simple Strategies for Healthier Habits
5 Diabetes-Friendly Breakfast Ideas
5 Diabetes-Friendly Breakfast Ideas5 Diabetes-Friendly Breakfast Ideas5 Diabetes-Friendly Breakfast Ideas5 Diabetes-Friendly Breakfast Ideas
Treating Your Type 2 Diabetes
Treating Your Type 2 Diabetes
Strawberry and Banana Smoothie
Strawberry and Banana Smoothie
Diabetes-Friendly Snacks to Keep in Your Desk
Diabetes-Friendly Snacks to Keep in Your DeskDiabetes-Friendly Snacks to Keep in Your DeskDiabetes-Friendly Snacks to Keep in Your DeskDiabetes-Friendly Snacks to Keep in Your Desk
4 Ways Winter Affects Your Diabetes
4 Ways Winter Affects Your Diabetes4 Ways Winter Affects Your Diabetes4 Ways Winter Affects Your Diabetes4 Ways Winter Affects Your Diabetes
See How Type 2 Diabetes Affects the Whole Body—Not Just the Pancreas
See How Type 2 Diabetes Affects the Whole Body—Not Just the Pancreas
Are You Ready to Try a Plant-Based Diet?
Are You Ready to Try a Plant-Based Diet?
How to Exercise With Type 2 Diabetes
How to Exercise With Type 2 DiabetesHow to Exercise With Type 2 DiabetesHow to Exercise With Type 2 DiabetesHow to Exercise With Type 2 Diabetes
7 Tips for Traveling With Type 2 Diabetes
7 Tips for Traveling With Type 2 Diabetes7 Tips for Traveling With Type 2 Diabetes7 Tips for Traveling With Type 2 Diabetes7 Tips for Traveling With Type 2 Diabetes
The Best and Worst Foods for Diabetes
The Best and Worst Foods for Diabetes
Sip This Peanut Butter and Raspberry Smoothie
Sip This Peanut Butter and Raspberry Smoothie
7 Ways High Blood Sugar Affects Your Body—And Why You Should Track It
7 Ways High Blood Sugar Affects Your Body—And Why You Should Track It7 Ways High Blood Sugar Affects Your Body—And Why You Should Track It7 Ways High Blood Sugar Affects Your Body—And Why You Should Track It7 Ways High Blood Sugar Affects Your Body—And Why You Should Track It