Your Diabetes Exercise Checklist

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on January 26, 2022
3 min read

Exercise has huge benefits for people with diabetes. If you want to get more active, start your fitness program safely with these tips.

Get about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day, 5 days a week. You've got so many options. You could swim laps, dance 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 tougher over time.

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

Show them some TLC, since diabetes makes foot problems more likely.

Wear cotton socks and athletic shoes to lower your chances of getting foot injuries, especially if you have diabetic nerve damage or circulation problems. 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.

Exercise can affect your levels 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 exercise, skip insulin shots in your arms and legs -- use another injection spot. And avoid working out 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 respond 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.

Drink water before, during, and after exercise, even if you're not thirsty.

Workouts can lower your blood sugar. So if you have type 1 diabetes, eat a light snack 1 to 3 hours -- depending on the type of insulin you use -- before a workout.

Keep items such as three to five glucose tabs, a small carton of fruit juice, or 2 tablespoons of raisins with you to quickly raise your blood sugar if needed.

Do you wear an insulin pump? Ask your doctor for tips on working out with it on. If you use injected or inhaled short- or rapid-acting insulin, talk with your doctor about lowering doses before exercise.

Think beyond your workout. How can you be more active all day long? Take your dog on an extra walk, wash your car by hand, or lift weights between shows while you're watching TV.

Text a buddy and ask them to join you. The time really does go faster when you have good company and someone to cheer you on!

Show Sources


American Diabetes Association: "2014 Standards of Care," "Foot Care."

CDC: "Be Active," "Overcoming Barriers to Physical Activity."  

Marjorie Cypress, PhD, RN, president, Healthcare and Education, American Diabetes Association.

Johns Hopkins Health Alerts: "Diabetes and Exercise -- Keeping Your Blood Glucose Levels in Check."

Mayo Clinic: "Diabetes and exercise: When to monitor blood sugar."

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