How to Start (or Restart) an Exercise Program

From the WebMD Archives

Just because exercise is a key way to manage your type 2 diabetes, it doesn't mean you have to get up at 5 a.m. and jog around your neighborhood.

Start small and pick something you enjoy, like dancing, gardening, or even walking your dog. Then celebrate your successes. It's OK if you're starting back up after not having worked out for a while.

"People just think it's this overwhelming thing, and they can't get started, but once they do and they're successful, it does become part of their life," says Karen Kemmis, DPT, a certified diabetes educator at SUNY Upstate Medical University. "A lot of people find they feel so good after they exercise."

Exercise does more than make you feel stronger and give you energy. It also helps insulin work better in your body. 

Before you start, talk to your doctor, especially if you have complications from diabetes. Once you get the go-ahead:

Set goals. Think about what you want to achieve. Do you want to play with your kids or grandchildren without huffing and puffing? Is your focus on losing weight and getting fit? Do you want to have less pain or improve your blood sugar levels? 

Write down your goals so you can look at them when you're tempted to stay in bed or watch TV.  

Start slowly. Begin with 5 to 10 minutes at a time. As you get stronger, go longer or do it more than once a day. Work toward 150 minutes a week. Try not to go more than 2 days in a row without exercise. 

Do a combo of activity that gets your heart pumping, like swimming and jogging. Also, try strength training, like lifting weights or using resistance bands.

Listen to your body. If you have pain during one exercise, switch to something else. If walking hurts your back, knees, or feet, try a stationary bike or water aerobics. 

Your diabetes educator, physical therapist, or doctor can help find something that works for you.

Find a comfortable place. If you're self-conscious about going to the gym, look for a program where you'll feel like you fit in. Check out your local community center or an exercise facility that attracts people you'd feel comfortable working out with.


Protect your feet. Wear shoes and socks that fit. Check your feet every day if you have nerve damage, ulcers, or sores.

Just move. Focus on being more active in your day-to-day life. Do you like pulling weeds or walking around the mall? Those things count. If motivation is an issue, pick up a pedometer or fitness tracker so you can see how many steps you take a day. That can help push you.

Make it fun. If exercise is boring to you, watch TV or listen to music or a book on tape while you’re on the treadmill. If you like dancing, find ways to do it at home or in the community.

Find a support system. It's more enjoyable if you work out with a friend. If you have to (or want to) go it alone, ask someone to help you stay on track. You'll be more likely to exercise if someone asks you how you stayed active during the day.

Track your progress. Use a calendar or your blood sugar log to jot down:

  • When you've exercised
  • For how long
  • Your total steps for the day

Choose a reward for meeting your goals, but make it something other than food. Consider treating yourself to a new piece of workout clothing or gear.

Forgive yourself. Don't get discouraged if you get out of your routine. Just pull out your goals, get a plan, and start again.

Wondering if there's an ideal time to exercise? It's a good idea to get going 30 to 60 minutes after a meal. That way, you have fuel in your body and can work off the calories.

If you tend to get low blood sugar, though, test your levels right before you exercise. If they’re below 100 mg/dL, eat or drink 15 grams of carbs, Kemmis says. That’s equal to a slice of bread or a small apple. You should be able to start working out within 5 to 10 minutes. If the number is less than 70 mg/dL, hold off until you can get it to at least 100, she says.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 27, 2017



American Diabetes Association: “Exercising with Diabetes Complications,” Fitness,” “Get Started Slowly,” “Physical Activity Is Important,” “See Your Doctor,” “What We Recommend.”

Karen Kemmis, DPT, spokeswoman, American Association of Diabetes Educators; physical therapist and certified diabetes educator, Joslin Diabetes Center affiliate, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY.

Indiana University Health: “Carbohydrate Counting Food List.”

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