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Your Diabetes Exercise Checklist

Exercise has huge benefits for people with diabetes. If you want to add more activity to your routine, start your exercise program safely with these tips.

Know How Much Exercise You Need

Get about 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise 5 days a week. You can swim laps, for instance, jitterbug around your dining room, shoot hoops, or take a hike. Choose something that makes your heart beat faster but doesn’t take you to your limits.

Start slowly -- something as simple as a 15-minute walk twice a day is good at first. You can make your workouts longer and more challenging over time.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you should add two strength-training sessions a week and work all your major muscle groups (arms, legs, shoulders, back, abs, and glutes).


Protect Your Feet

Diabetes makes foot problems more likely. So show your feet some TLC.

To protect against foot injuries, especially if you have diabetic nerve damage or circulation problems, wear cotton socks and athletic shoes. Your sneakers should fit well and have plenty of room in the toe.

Every day, check your feet for blisters, cuts, bumps, redness, or sores – even if you didn’t work out that day.

Watch Your Blood Sugar

Exercise can affect your blood sugar right away and over a longer time. 

If you take insulin or medications that lower blood sugar levels, test yours 30 minutes before you work out and then every 30 minutes as you exercise to make sure your numbers stay stable.

On the days you plan to work out, skip insulin shots in your arms and legs -- use another injection spot. And avoid exercise when the insulin is in its peak action time. Talk to your doctor about your peak time because it varies.

For most people, a blood sugar level between 100 mg/dL and 250 mg/dL is an OK pre-workout range. Use this guide to help you react to other results.

If your blood sugar is:

  • Lower than 100 mg/dL: Have a snack with carbs, like fruit or crackers.
  • 250 mg/dL or higher: Test for ketones, the compounds your body makes when it doesn't have enough insulin. Being active when ketones are high can make you ill.
  • 300 mg/dL: Wait to exercise until your blood sugar drops.

Stop exercising if:

  • You feel shaky, anxious, weak, or confused
  • You sweat more than usual
  • Your heart is racing
  • You have a headache

These could be signs that your sugar is dropping or low, and they can happen during exercise or several hours after.

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