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If you have diabetes, your doctor may have been telling you for ages: You need to exercise more. Staying active helps you control your blood sugar and cuts your odds of heart problems and other health issues diabetes can cause. But knowing that you should exercise doesn't always make it easier to do it.

Busy schedules, families, and work can make it hard for anyone to stick to an exercise plan. And diabetes can make it harder. Issues such as nerve damage, eye disease, and fatigue may all make it tough to stay fit. You may also be afraid of your blood sugars dropping too low.

But you can do it -- even if you've never liked exercise and don't know where to start. These ideas can help you get moving safely, no matter what shape you're in.

Diabetes and Exercise: How Much and Why?

Experts say people with diabetes should shoot for:

  • 150 minutes or more of aerobic exercise each week. Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise can make insulin work better and lower blood sugar long-term. And it makes you less likely to have health problems linked to diabetes, like heart disease. Brisk walks, biking, tennis, or anything else that gets your heart rate up is great.
  • 2 to 3 sessions of strength training each week. The more muscle mass you have, the better your body can process blood sugar. Working muscles first use stored sugars and then blood sugars for energy. Muscle also burns more calories than fat. Lifting weights, sit-ups, pushups, and resistance exercises will help.

If you haven't been working out, 150 minutes may sound like an awful lot of exercise. Don't let that put you off -- instead, divide it up. It breaks down to 30 minutes, 5 days a week. And you don't have to do the 30 minutes all at once. Exercise for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes in the evening, and you've got 30 minutes total.

And if you're just starting out? Any exercise at all is good for you, even if you only do it for 5 or 10 minutes a day. Once you're used to that, slowly increase the time each day.

If you have diabetes and haven't been active, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.