Diabetes and Exercise

Exercising regularly is important. It is not just about losing weight. It has many health benefits, such as:

  • Improving your overall fitness, flexibility, and endurance.

  • Increasing your bone density.

  • Helping with weight control.

  • Decreasing your body fat.

  • Increasing your muscle strength.

  • Reducing stress and tension.

  • Improving your overall health.

People with diabetes who exercise gain additional benefits because exercise:

  • Reduces appetite.

  • Improves the body's use of blood sugar (glucose).

  • Helps lower or control blood glucose.

  • Decreases blood pressure.

  • Helps control blood lipids (such as cholesterol and triglycerides).

  • Improves the body's use of the hormone insulin by:

  • Increasing the body's insulin sensitivity.

  • Reducing the body's insulin needs.

  • Decreases the risk for heart disease because exercising:

  • Lowers cholesterol and triglycerides levels.

  • Increases the levels of good cholesterol (such as high-density lipoproteins [HDL]) in the body.

  • Lowers blood glucose levels.


Choose an activity that you enjoy and set realistic goals. Your health care provider or diabetes educator can help you make an activity plan that works for you. You can break activities into 2 or 3 sessions throughout the day. Doing so is as good as one long session. Exercise ideas include:

  • Taking the dog for a walk.

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

  • Dancing to your favorite song.

  • Doing your favorite exercise with a friend.


  • Check your blood glucose before exercising. If blood glucose levels are greater than 240 mg/dL, check for urine ketones. Do not exercise if ketones are present.

  • Avoid injecting insulin into areas of the body that are going to be exercised. For example, avoid injecting insulin into:

  • The arms when playing tennis.

  • The legs when jogging.

  • Keep a record of:

  • Food intake before and after you exercise.

  • Expected peak times of insulin action.

  • Blood glucose levels before and after you exercise.

  • The type and amount of exercise you have done.

  • Review your records with your health care provider. Your health care provider will help you to develop guidelines for adjusting food intake and insulin amounts before and after exercising.

  • If you take insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents, watch for signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia. They include:

  • Dizziness.

  • Shaking.

  • Sweating.

  • Chills.

  • Confusion.

  • Drink plenty of water while you exercise to prevent dehydration or heat stroke. Body water is lost during exercise and must be replaced.

  • Talk to your health care provider before starting an exercise program to make sure it is safe for you. Remember, almost any type of activity is better than none.