Being active is important for everyone as part of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s especially so for those living with diabetes. Not only does exercise lower blood glucose levels, but it also boosts the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which counters insulin resistance. And here’s the good news: Exercise comes in many different forms, so you can find something that works for you. Read on for tips and ideas on how to exercise and get the most out of it.
There are many physical benefits that exercising brings, such as strengthening muscles, supporting a healthy weight, and improving blood circulation, energy levels & sleep. But it also gets the feel-good endorphins flowing, which can help combat stress and anxiety. For diabetics, being active can help control blood sugar levels, which lowers the risk of heart disease and nerve damage. It also increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin—the hormone that allows cells to convert blood sugar into energy.
But we know that for some, finding the motivation to get moving can be a struggle. We get it. It’s not always easy to find the time or the will to exercise. Hopefully the tips and ideas below can help you hit your fitness goals in a way that works for you.
Talk to your primary care provider
First things first. Let your doctor know what you plan to do so they can make sure you’re ready for it. Check to see if you need to change your meals, insulin, or diabetes medication. Your doctor can also let you know if the time of day you exercise matters.
Exercise 1–3 hours after eating, when your blood sugar level is likely to be higher
If you use insulin, it's important to test your blood sugar before exercising. If the level before exercise is below 100 mg/dL, eating a piece of fruit or having a small snack will boost it and help you avoid hypoglycemia.
Check your blood sugar after a workout or activity
If you're taking insulin, your risk of developing hypoglycemia may be highest 6-12 hours after exercising. Keep track of your levels so you can monitor the effects of exercise on your body.
Focus on low-impact exercises such as walking for 30 minutes to an hour, 3 or 4 times a week
Walking is an easy, low-intensity activity that can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. It’s good for your heart & weight, sure, but it can also improve your mood and lower stress. Plus, one study found people with diabetes who walked at least two hours per week were less likely to experience severe symptoms of heart disease than those who did not walk.
Try a combination of whole-body strength training and aerobic exercise
Strength training exercises include lifting weights, working with resistance bands, or doing pushups, lunges, and squats. Aerobic exercises include brisk walking, swimming, running, or cycling. Both help to lower insulin resistance and HbA1c values in people with diabetes and can improve blood sugar control.
Workout classes we love:
- P.volve, resistance equipment & low impact workouts that focus on functional movement to make you strong, sculpted & energized while helping to reduce pain. Use code SUGARBREAK at checkout for a free 1-month digital membership when you add "one month" to your cart.
- intenSati, a full body workout led by sugar addiction expert, Molly Carmel LCSW-R that integrates movement with reaffirming mantras to exercise your mind, body, & spirit.
Ease into it
If you're not active now or haven’t been active in a while, start with 10 minutes of exercise at a time and gradually work up to 30 minutes a day. Baby steps! You got this.
Make your exercises fun
Who says exercise has to be boring? There are so many fun ways to get your body moving and blood flowing. Here are just a few ideas:
Who doesn’t love to boogie? Crank your jam and let loose in the living room. It can help your heart health, lower your blood sugar, ease stress levels, and burn calories.
Doing a few laps builds & tones muscles in your upper and lower body at the same time. It can also help lower cholesterol and maintain a healthy weight, heart, & lungs. Plus, swimming does not strain your joints like other aerobic exercises can.
Whether it’s in your spare room or weaving through country lanes, any way you spin it, cycling is both fun and good for you. Just 30 minutes a day 3–5 times a week can get your heart rate up, build endurance, and help with weight management. Plus, when bicycles serve a functional purpose—such as a means of getting to work—the environment is happier. Not only do they cut down on air pollutants, they also reduce noise pollution and congestion. Now that’s a win-win!
Yoga or Pilates or Tai Chi
Yoga is a great way to build body strength while relaxing your mind. It can also keep your blood sugar levels more stable and lower stress levels.
Calling all green thumbs! Gardening officially counts as exercise (because the CDC says so). Activities like raking, weeding, and digging burn calories—which means it’s exercise. Plus, you get to connect with nature!
We know it’s not always easy, but exercise is an important factor in both the prevention and treatment of diabetes (remember, slow and steady wins the race—you don’t have to go from 0–100 tomorrow). Once you figure out what works best for you, the incremental changes over time will lead to big benefits. And we’ll be here to support you every step of the way.