Exercise and Diabetes


Exercise is beneficial for everyone but is especially so for people with diabetes. For some people with type 2 diabetes, exercise can make a difference in whether or not medication is needed.


How does exercise help?

  • Assists in lowering blood sugar. The more active person uses more fuel. When muscles are being employed, they use the sugar circulating in the bloodstream.
  • Strengthens joints and muscles. Elevated blood sugar over the years can contribute to glycosylated (sugar-coated) joints, adding to stiffness and arthritic-like conditions. Moving each body part at its joint, daily, can help ease these problems.


How much exercise?

  • To lower blood sugar, exercise for 15—20 minutes at a pace where speaking can be easily accomplished.
  • To burn body fat, a sustained activity at a moderate pace for 35—40 minutes will speed up the process.
  • Doing some type of activity everyday is ideal.
  • Being consistent is important to aid in blood sugar control.


What types of exercise?

  • A medical check-up, especially for those over 35, is necessary. This may include a stress test and possibly a medication adjustment.
  • Activities should be appropriate for a person’s physical condition.
  • It is best to begin exercising slowly and to build up the length and intensity of the activity over time.
  • Although either aerobic exercise or resistance training can help lower blood sugar levels, studies have shown that improved glycemic control is greatest when aerobic exercise is combined with resistance training (1).
  • A study funded by Diabetes Action showed the benefits of regular exercise and calorie restriction in reducing cardio metabolic risk in type 2 diabetes. (2)


What else is important when exercising?

  • Blood sugar checks are most important. A blood sugar of 240 or greater could signify an insulin insufficiency or too much food intake. Those with insulin-requiring diabetes should check for ketones. If blood sugar is below 120, a snack of anywhere from 15 - 30 grams of carbohydrate is needed to raise the blood sugar level.
  • Exercising in extreme hot or cold weather should be avoided as this can cause blood sugar fluctuations.
  • Keeping some type of diabetes medication at all times with the medication dosage listed.
  • If exercising outdoors or alone, be sure to carry some type of identification that states you have diabetes.
  • Checking feet daily for blisters can help avoid foot ulcers.
  • Wearing white cotton socks and supporting shoes that fit properly.
  • Carrying glucose tablets or another quick energy source to elevate blood sugar levels if needed.
  • Drinking water before, during, and after exercise.
  • For endurance or more intensive activities, some protein and fat may be needed.
  • Those with type 1 diabetes need to be especially observant of these guidelines.
  • Exercising 30—90 minutes after a meal, when blood sugar is at its peak, will generally satisfy any need for snacking and will guard against hypoglycemic reactions.



  1. Sigal RJ, Kenny GP, Boulé NG, Wells GA, Prud'homme D, Fortier M, Reid RD, Tulloch H, Coyle D, Phillips P, Jennings A, Jaffey J. Effects of aerobic training, resistance training, or both on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2007 Sep 18;147(6):357-69. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17876019/
  2. Broderick TL, Jankowski M, Gutkowska J. The effects of exercise training and caloric restriction on the cardiac oxytocin natriuretic peptide system in the diabetic mouse. Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy. 2017;10:27-36. doi:10.2147/DMSO.S115453. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5238809/