Your Well-Timed Diabetes Workout

Find the time of day that works best with your lifestyle.

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 24, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

Diet, medication, and exercise are the main ways to keep diabetes in check. And while there's a right time for meals and for medications if you take them, what about workouts?

"Exercise is beneficial for people with diabetes almost any time, but depending on other health factors, it may be more beneficial to some people at certain times of day," says Claudia Scott, RD, a certified diabetes educator.

Early bird

If you have early-morning sugar spikes, a rise-and-shine workout could help burn some of that extra sugar. "Any blood sugar reading around or above 120 would be ideal for exercising first thing," Scott says. But check with your doctor first if your blood sugar is above 250.

After a meal

If your sugar is normal, say 100 to 110, exercise could push your liver to release glucose for fuel.

"That could leave your blood sugar higher than it was to begin with," Scott says. In that case, it's best to wait till after you eat. That way, you burn the sugar you take in at mealtimes rather than releasing your body's natural stores of it into your bloodstream.

Post-meal exercise doesn't just help process the glucose from that meal. It can continue to help regulate blood sugar for up to 24 hours.

Before a meal

If you can most easily fit in a workout before lunch or dinner, go for it. Exercise before or after a meal can help you feel less hungry and increase that full, satisfied feeling.

Even 6 minutes of intense exercise before a meal can help you reap benefits all day long. In an experiment, people with diabetes walked briskly uphill on a treadmill for 6 minutes, taking a quick break each minute, for a half hour before dinner. The mini-workouts helped control their blood sugar after the evening meal and for some, the effects lasted 24 hours.

Ask Your Doctor

Is it safe for me to begin or get more daily physical activity?

What time of day might I benefit more from exercise?

What's a safe range for my blood sugar to be in when I start my workout?

In what situations should I not exercise?

Show Sources


Claudia Scott MS, RD, LD, CDE, Director, Didactic Program in Dietetics; Dietetic Internship Coordinator; Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, TX.

American Diabetes Association.

Chacko, E. Connecticut Medicine, October 2014.

Heden, T. Journal of Applied Physiology, published online Dec. 24, 2014.

Heden, T. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, February 2016.

Haxhi, J. European Journal of Applied Physiology, published online Dec. 28, 2015.

Francois, M. Diabetologia, published online May 10, 2014.

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