The Role Exercise Plays in Managing Diabetes

By Wayne Y., EP-C ACSM, Livea Centers

If you have diabetes either Type 1 or 2 you might have concerns beginning an exercise program, but physical activity will help those with diabetes take control of their lives. Maintaining a consistent exercise routine in combination with a well-balance diet provides many benefits for our overall heath, here is a list of benefits provided by Mayo Clinic and the CDC:

  • Helps maintain a healthy weight
  • Increases good cholesterol levels (HDL’s)
  • Decreases blood pressure and bad cholesterol (LDL’s, triglycerides)
    • Which helps prevent heart disease (MI, PAD, CAD, etc.)
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Reduces stress levels
  • Boosts confidence
  • Maintain or improve bone density with impact exercises (walking, running, weight training, etc.)

Another benefit is our bodies become more sensitive to insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows our body to use the glucose in our blood stream for energy). With proper diet and exercise, those with Diabetes can improve the management of their blood sugar levels.

For those with Diabetes there are a few important considerations when it comes to exercise. Remember to check where your blood sugars are at both before and after a workout to avoid the risk of becoming either hypo/hyper-glycemic, especially if you are currently taking insulin. During the exercise, it is always safe to carry or have nearby any sources of carbohydrates perhaps some fruit or fruit juice if you begin to feel dizzy or light-headed. Remember to check your feet or any cuts, sores, bruises or any other injuries after completing an exercise. If there is an injury that doesn’t begin to heal after 2 days then call your health care provider (The Mayo Clinic, 2018).

Now where to begin if you haven’t been physically active for some time? If you have been inactive, always ask your doctor if its ok for you to begin an exercise program. The recommendations for aerobic exercise (cardio) are at least 150 minutes of activity a week at low to moderate intensity or 75 minutes of activity at vigorous intensity a week. For resistance training (weight training) it is recommended to get 2-3 days of this type of activity. Aerobic activity can come in many forms such as walking, jogging, biking, climbing stairs, elliptical, etc. 150 minutes may seem like a lot, but remember that is it always safe to start out slow and build our way up to where we want to be. Here is a simple example of progression in exercise:

  • Week 1-2
    • Jog for 10 minutes twice a day for a week.
  • Week 3-4
    • Jog for 20 minutes once a day for a week.
  • Week 5
    • Jog for 30 minutes once a day for 5 days

In order to stay consistent, it helps to find activities that you enjoy doing, but also elevate your heart rate and make you breathe harder. Remember to keep a close watch on your blood sugar levels, and consult your physician before beginning an exercise routine.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2018, April 24). Diabetes Get Active!.

The Mayo Clinic (2018, December 20) Diabetes and Exercise: When to Monitor Your Blood Sugar.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2018, November 9) Diabetes diet, eating and physical activity.