Smart Moves: Exercise Tips to Manage Your Diabetes

An expert explains the dos and don'ts of working out.

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 15, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Exercise is a powerful way to take charge of your diabetes. Your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels stay on track, and insulin works better. But to exercise safely, you need to take a few precautions.

Certified fitness trainer Jeanette DePatie weighs in with some facts about what to do -- and what not to do.

Start slow and increase gradually. If you haven't worked out regularly in a while, don't assume you can pick up right where you left off, DePatie says. First, get cleared by your doctor.

After you get a thumbs-up, start small. Try something gentle -- like walking, dancing, or biking -- for 5 to 10 minutes a day. Build up to 30 minutes a day, five or more days a week.

Keep an eye on your blood sugar levels. "Check them frequently before and after exercise, especially if you're new to exercise," DePatie says. Working out may cause your levels to drop. "Make sure you've got some fast-acting carbohydrates, like sports drinks, juice, or glucose tabs, so you can quickly bring your sugar back up," she says. 

Take care of your body. This starts with your feet. Wear a clean pair of socks and supportive athletic shoes that fit you well, she says. Check your feet for blisters, redness, or irritation. Stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout. Protect yourself from extreme hot or cold temperatures. 

Be active all day. Burn extra calories even when you're not working out. If you're sitting for a long time, get up at least every 90 minutes and move. Walk instead of driving. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Park at the end of the parking lot.

Don't exercise if your blood sugar levels are too low or too high. If they're lower than 100 mg/dL or higher than 250–300 mg/dL, it may not be safe to work out. Eat a snack or wait for it to reach a better level before getting started.

Don't keep going if it hurts. Stop exercising if you feel dizziness, shortness of breath, disorientation, or pain.

Don't miss working out more than 2 days in a row. Missing a day here or there is OK, but it's best to be consistent with your exercise plan.

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Jeanette DePatie, certified fitness trainer.

American Diabetes Association: "Getting Started with Physical Activity for People with Diabetes," "Injury-Free Exercise—11 Quick Safety Tips."

Cleveland Clinic: "Five Best Exercises for People with Diabetes."

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