Get Your Diabetes Exercise Plan On Track

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on March 15, 2024
3 min read

You’ve heard it a million times: Exercise is really important, especially since you have diabetes. But even if you know it’s true, sometimes it takes more than that to get motivated.

If you aren’t already active, you need a workout plan that works for you. Here are some tips to start a routine and stick to it.

Ask your doctor or nurse what activities are best for you and how intense they should be.

Cranking up the treadmill or hitting the heavy weights right away isn't a good idea if you haven’t exercised in a while, or ever. It might even be dangerous. If you take insulin or other diabetes medication, physical activity may make your blood sugar drop too low.

And if you have any other health problems from diabetes, like heart disease, nerve damage, or eye problems, there might be some types of exercise you should not do.

Chart out a routine -- the days, times, and length of your workout sessions. Keep a log of your exercise and your blood sugar levels, too.

That will help you track your progress and see how your workouts are making a difference. It will also make you more accountable for times you miss a session or when you might not have done enough. And you can start to see patterns, like days, times, or types of exercise that work better for you.

But don’t set goals you know you can’t meet. If you’ve never been able to wake up early to spend an hour at the gym before work, that shouldn’t be your plan now. Doctors recommend 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity almost every day, but you don’t have to find time to do it all at once. Break it up into 10- or 15-minute sessions.

And reward yourself when you meet your goals! Splurge on some new workout clothes, a massage, or more songs for your playlist.

Being active doesn’t have to mean lacing up new sneakers and signing up for a marathon. Start with a single step. Walking is less strenuous and safe for most people with diabetes. From there, you can work your way up to more intense exercise.

There are also easy ways to add movement to the things that already fill your busy day.

  • Do some jumping jacks or get up and stretch during TV commercial breaks.
  • Walk around while you talk on the phone.
  • At work, skip the elevator and take the stairs.
  • Park at the far end of the parking lot and walk.
  • Stretch your chores -- take two trips to the garage to unload groceries instead of one.


Often it seems like the only thing harder than starting a workout routine is sticking with one. Once you've been at it for a while, sometimes you might feel like you’ve stopped getting results, or you lose interest at the gym.

But don’t give up! Try new ways to freshen up your workout:

Switch it up. Feel like a hamster on the treadmill? Try a new exercise class. Tired of the gym? Ride your bike outside. Simple tweaks like that can pull you out of your funk, test different muscles, and lower your risk of injury.

Find a friend. Talking to a workout buddy helps the time pass. They can also motivate you to stick to your plan.

Make it fun. If you enjoy being outdoors, take a hike. Like the water? Do some laps at the pool. Even if you’re a couch potato, park the exercise bike in front of the TV or stream shows on your smartphone.  Working out doesn’t have to be a chore.