Great Outdoor Workouts for People With Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on November 26, 2018
From the WebMD Archives

When you get moving, your body is better able to use insulin. This fall, get outside with a fun, flexible workout such as walking, swimming, or biking.

Jacqueline Shahar, an exercise physiologist at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, suggests you talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. And always check your blood sugar before and after exercise. You may need to adjust your insulin or oral meds.

Walking. It's easy, you can do it almost anywhere, and it's a snap to get started. Buy a pair of comfortable exercise shoes with thick, flexible soles. Wear clothes made from synthetic fabrics to keep you dry and comfortable.

Your goal is 30 minutes a day for at least 5 days a week. If a long walk feels like too much, break it up into small chunks. If you're new to exercise, start with 10 minutes, Shahar says.

Biking. This is a great choice if you have neuropathy in your feet. "Biking delivers lower levels of pressure to the feet and helps increase blood flow to your legs," she says.

All you need is a bicycle (any kind will do), comfortable clothes, and a good pair of closed-toed shoes. A helmet is a good idea, too.

Get on your bike and ride 10 to 20 minutes at a low to moderate pace. A flat surface is best if you're just starting out. As you get more comfortable and feel stronger, gradually add more time, pick up your pace, and try some hills.

Swimming. It's an ideal cardio workout that doesn't put pressure on your joints. Wear pool shoes to avoid slipping or scraping your feet.

Try swimming laps for 10 minutes. Take breaks between laps if you need them. You can also try a water aerobics class.

As you get stronger, add more laps. Aim for small increases of 10% to 15% each week or two, Shahar says. So if you start with 10 minutes, bump it up to 11 minutes after a week.

This, Not That

If you have an advanced eye problem related to diabetes called proliferative retinopathy, avoid weight-bearing activities such as walking. Try biking or swimming instead.

If you have kidney disease (nephropathy), light to moderate exercise is best. Walking, biking, and swimming are fine, but do each in short, 5- to 10-minute bouts.

If you have autonomic neuropathy, which can cause dizziness and affect your heart rate and your body's ability to detect low blood sugar, talk to your doctor about exercising at a safe level.

If you have a foot ulcer or deformity, choose an exercise that is not weight-bearing, such as biking. Avoid swimming or walking. Keep your feet clean and dry.

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Show Sources


Jacqueline Shahar, MEd, RCEP, CDE, exercise physiologist, Joslin Diabetes Center.

American Diabetes Association: “Aerobic Exercise.”

National Diabetes Education Program: “Move More.”

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