Regular physical activity is recommended for everyone, but for people with diabetes, it is one of the cornerstones of good diabetes care. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise. Your doctor will check for any problems that require modification in your exercise programme.

Why is exercise important for people with diabetes?

Physical activity is like a “secret weapon” to help fight diabetes. When you exercise, your muscles use glucose for energy. This reduces the amount of glucose in your blood. Exercise also makes your body more sensitive to insulin, which means that insulin can do a better job of moving glucose from your blood into your cells. Exercise also helps improve other medical problems that are common in people with diabetes, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Types of exercise and activities

There are three types of recommended exercises:

  • Aerobic exercise: such as walking, jogging, and biking
  • Strengthening/anaerobic exercises: weight machine, free weights, and calisthenics
  • Flexibility exercises such as yoga that strengthens muscles

How many calories can I burn in an exercise? The numbers of calories burned during exercise depends on your size and the type, duration and the intensity of the exercise

  • Light exercise for 30 minutes such as walking, light housework, dancing, yoga, swimming and golf burns 100 to 120 calories
  • Moderate exercise for 30 minutes such as fast walking, gardening, and volleyball burns 150 to 200 calories
  • Strenuous exercise for 30 minutes such as running, tennis and squash/handball burns 250 to 300 calories

Tips to get started

  • Be realistic: You can’t run before you walk
  • Go slowly: You may need to start with only 10 minutes/day
  • Plan your exercise time on your calendar or day planner
  • Consult with an exercise physiologist if possible

Safety Tips

  • Keep well hydrated. Drink water before, during and after exercise
  • Check your feet for any redness, cuts and blisters before and after exercise
  • Do not exercise if your blood sugar is over 300 mg/dl
  • Do not exercise if your blood sugar is less than 100 dl/mg
  • Take a snack about 15g of carbohydrate before starting for the 30 minutes of light exercise.
  • Do not exercise when you are ill
  • Stop exercising immediately if you get light headed, dizzy, nauseated or weak, or have chest pressure, pain, loss of coordination or palpitation
  • Listen to your body. Stop for a brief rest when necessary
  • Check blood sugars frequently
  • Adjust insulin according to a plan discussed with your healthcare provider

For diabetic patients on insulin pump therapy you have the best method for adjusting insulin for planned and spontaneous exercise. For light exercise and activity for short duration, no change is usually necessary. For long durations or more intensity, you may need to decrease both the basal rates and bolus doses 20% to 50%. Please consult your doctor or the diabetes educator before adjusting the dose.

What exercises should I avoid if I have diabetic complications?

If you suffer from diabetic complications such as severe peripheral neuropathy, severe autonomic neuropathy, or proliferative retinopathy:

  • Avoid heavy lifting, high impact aerobics, or strenuous, long duration exercises
  • Check with your healthcare provider before starting any type of exercise

Can I exercise if I’m pregnant?

  • Don’t start a strenuous programme once you are pregnant
  • Check with your doctor before beginning a new programme
  • Drink lots of water
  • Monitor your blood sugar frequently
  • Keep your heart rate under 140 beats per minutes
  • Contractions may indicate that you are working too hard
  • Focus on breathing
  • Avoid high impact exercises
  • Lying on your back may cause a quick drop in blood pressure
  • Avoid sudden stops, starts and twisting
  • Try walking, swimming, yoga, Tai Chi or mild stretching exercises