Are Short Workouts Better for Your Blood Sugar?

Quick exercise sessions several times a day may be good for you.

From the WebMD Archives

Sometimes nibbling is better than gorging. Likewise, experts say divvying up your workouts into exercise "snacks" can be a wise idea.

A new study suggests that several shorter bouts of exercise, done before meals, can be good for blood sugar control. The results, published in Diabetologia, are from just one study -- more research is needed.

Still, "you can build the same amount of strength and burn the same amount of calories by doing it (exercising) in chunks," says fitness expert Fitz Koehler, a member of the University of Florida Diabetes Institute's leadership council.

Koehler explains how to swap long workouts for shorter sessions.

Hit your totals. Break it up how you want. Chunks of 5 to 25 minutes are fine. Just be sure they add up to 45 minutes of exercise a day, 5 to 6 days a week.

Time it right. For blood sugar control, the study suggests the best time to exercise is before your main meals. But it's OK to exercise when it feels right for you. 

"It's very personal," Koehler says. Some people are uncomfortable eating before a workout. For others, it's a must.

Check your glucose levels. Exercise will affect your numbers. Ask your doctor for guidelines and stick to that range. 

Check your blood sugar before and after you exercise, and have an action plan in case it goes too low. After a while you'll know what you need to keep your numbers on track, Koehler says. You may need to nibble on a snack, or wait an hour after eating before exercising.

Listen to your body. On a scale of one to 10, shoot for a level of exertion between five and seven. You should be huffing and puffing but still able to talk. 

"If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or lethargic, pull back and evaluate," Koehler says. The consequences can be bigger when you have diabetes.

Take your pick. Both aerobic exercise and strength training can be broken into chunks. Walk, dance, or try a fitness video game. Try short bursts of squats or lunges, push-ups, or dumbbell work. The trick is to choose an exercise that doesn't require a change of clothes.


Start small. Aim big, but start with short, easy segments. Then gradually ramp up as you get more fit. Slow and steady is the best way to pump up your fitness level.

But don't be afraid to aim high. "I work with people who have diabetes and run marathons, enter strength-training competitions, do CrossFit, and do Zumba," Koehler says. "You can do anything you want to do. You just have to be better at managing your exercise."

'Snack Break'

These tips from Koehler will help you squeeze exercise "snacks" into your workday.

Bring your phone call on the go. "If I have a phone conference that's more than 10 minutes, I'll take the call on my treadmill or while walking around the block," he says.

Step away. Set your alarm to go off every hour as a reminder to get up from your computer. Do 5 minutes of strength training or stretching. Jumping jacks, lunges, and squats are other good ways to get moving without leaving your work area.

WebMD Magazine - Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on April 9, 2015



Fitz Koehler, MSESS, fitness expert, University of Florida Diabetes Institute leadership council.

Francois, M.E. Diabetologia, July 2014.

Joslin Diabetes Center: "Stay healthy with diabetes.”

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