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Exercise and Diabetes

Exercise helps to control blood glucose and manage diabetes

The contraction of muscles during exercise increases the absorption of glucose and improves insulin sensitivity. Research shows that physical activity can have this impact on insulin and blood glucose for up to 24 hours.

The best exercises for those with diabetes

The exercise recommendations for individuals with diabetes are the same as those for most healthy adults. Both cardiovascular workouts and strength training are important for improving insulin sensitivity. Aim to exercise at least 150 minutes each week, and try to spread this time out over 5 days to ensure regular activity. If you can’t fit in a full 30-minute session at once, splitting the activity into sessions of at least 10 minutes throughout the day can have a similar positive impact on health.

Try walking, biking, hiking, dancing, or low-impact aerobics. In addition to your cardiovascular exercise, include strength training at least 2 times per week. Body weight exercises, weight machines and resistance bands can all be used to perform exercises that strengthen the major muscles groups and improve blood glucose control.

Exercise safety tips

  • Always check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.
  • Different types of exercise will affect your blood glucose in different ways.
  • Monitor your blood sugar before, during and after workouts to better understand the right activities and intensities for you.
  • Proceed gradually. First try a session of 10 minutes, monitor your glucose and slowly increase to at least 30 minutes, 5 times per week.
  • Be prepared for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) by keeping a drink or snack with 15 to 20 grams of fast acting carbohydrates nearby, such as fruit juice or a banana.
  • Continue with the balanced diet you currently use to manage your diabetes.
  • Moderate exercise usually does not require an increase in carbohydrate intake.
  • Consider exercising with a buddy to ease tension as you add exercise and as you learn how it influences your blood sugar response.


Lori Rice, M.S., is a nutritional scientist and author with a passion for healthy cooking, exercise physiology, and food photography.
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