Physical Activity for Diabetes

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Light activities like walking are fine for most people with diabetes. If you haven’t been active and feel unsure about your health, talk to your health care provider before doing anything more demanding. If you have any diabetes complications, there may be certain exercises you should avoid. Learn more about exercising safely on the following pages.

There are a few ways that exercise lowers blood glucose:

  • Insulin sensitivity is increased, so your muscle cells are better able to use any available insulin to take up glucose during and after activity.
  • When your muscles contract during activity, your cells are able to take up glucose and use it for energy whether insulin is available or not.

This is how exercise can help lower blood glucose in the short term. And when you are active on a regular basis, it can also lower your A1C.

 

What we recommend

Two types of physical activity are most important for managing diabetes: aerobic exercise and strength training.

1. Aerobic exercises

Aerobic exercise helps your body use insulin better. It makes your heart and bones strong, relieves stress, improves blood circulation, and reduces your risk for heart disease by lowering blood glucose and blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels.

We Recommend: Aiming for 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic exercise at least 5 days a week or a total of 150 minutes per week. Spread your activity out over at least 3 days during the week and try not to go more than 2 days in a row without exercising.

Note: Moderate intensity means that you are working hard enough that you can talk, but not sing, during the activity. Vigorous intensity means you cannot say more than a few words without pausing for a breath during the activity.

Get started

If you haven’t been very active recently, you can start out with 5 or 10 minutes a day. Then, increase your activity sessions by a few minutes each week. Over time, you’ll see your fitness improve, and you’ll find that you’re able to do more.

Below are some examples of aerobic activities:

  • Brisk walking (outside or inside on a treadmill)
  • Bicycling/Stationary cycling indoors
  • Dancing
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Playing tennis
  • Stair climbing
  • Jogging/Running
  • Hiking
  • Rowing
  • Ice-skating or roller-skating
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Moderate-to-heavy gardening

 

2. Strength training

Strength training (also called resistance training) makes your body more sensitive to insulin and can lower blood glucose. It helps to maintain and build strong muscles and bones, reducing your risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures.

The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn – even when your body is at rest.

Preventing muscle loss by strength training is also the key to maintaining an independent lifestyle as you age.

We Recommend: doing some type of strength training at least 2 times per week in addition to aerobic activity.

Below are examples of strength training activities:

  • Weight machines or free weights at the gym
  • Using resistance bands
  • Lifting light weights or objects like canned goods or water bottles at home
  • Calisthenics or exercises that use your own body weight to work your muscles (examples are pushups, sit ups, squats, lunges, wall-sits and planks)
  • Classes that involve strength training
  • Other activities that build and keep muscle like heavy gardening

 

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