10 Things to Know About Diabetes & Exercise

Including exercise as a regular part of your life can have many positive effects on your diabetes. Making exercise a bigger priority can feel overwhelming, especially when you're just getting started. Here are 10 things every person with type 2 diabetes should know about exercise.


Top 10 Tips for Exercising with Diabetes

1: How your exercise will affect your blood sugar:

There are two types of exercise: aerobic (good for your heart) and resistance training (good for your muscles and bones). While both types of exercise are beneficial, each can have a very different impact on your blood sugar. Aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, jogging, or swimming -- anything using large muscle groups at a moderate heart rate for a prolonged period of time -- can require a great deal of sugar for fuel, which can help reduce overall blood sugar levels.

Resistance training, also known as anaerobic exercise or interval training, can actually raise your blood sugar. "[Resistance training] consists of short bursts of effort that result in the release of stress hormones and adrenaline, which can trigger a large release of sugar into your blood that was stored in your liver and muscles," says Marcey Robinson, CDE, an exercise physiologist from ACHIEVE Health & Performance in Basalt, Colorado.

Other important variables that can affect your blood sugar with exercise: the time of day, your current fitness level, your history of hypoglycemia, and your medications, such as insulin. Robinson recommends checking your blood sugar before, during, and after exercise. Take good notes, and identify the patterns you see developing between your blood sugar and activity levels.

2: Fueling your body with food before exercise is important:

While it may seem counterproductive to consume calories before you work out, not eating anything before exercise can lead to low blood sugar, cause your metabolism to slow down, and limit the amount of energy for your workout.

Allowing 30-45 minutes after eating a small snack before exercising, and waiting a full hour after larger meals, will give your body enough time to digest the food so it can be used for energy, says Jennifer Smith, RD, CDE, of the Dean Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin, who also has type 1 diabetes.

"Aim for a well-balanced meal or small snack that includes all (or most) of the food groups: protein, healthy grains or other carbohydrates such as fruit or yogurt, veggies, and a healthy fat source such as olive oil or nuts," she says.

For example, a simple preworkout snack could be an apple with a small handful of almonds, and maybe even a few baby carrots. Remember, your body needs fuel every day, especially when you're exercising. Balance and moderation are key.

3. How often you should check your blood sugar when starting a new exercise regimen:

Checking your blood sugar at some point during or shortly after you exercise can be helpful, especially if you're beginning a new program and unsure of how it will affect your blood sugar level.

"If you're new to an exercise, your body will see it as a bigger stress, resulting in a greater impact on your blood sugar," says Robinson. "For example, if you just started jogging, you might find that your blood sugar can drop 60 points in 30 minutes. But if you've been jogging for months, your blood sugar may only drop 20 points because your body is more efficient."

This variable even applies to an avid exerciser, Robinson says. "If you are a jogger and decide that you want to start swimming, you can't assume that your blood sugar will drop 20 points. In fact, because you are new to swimming (even though you are fit), your blood sugar might drop 60 points or even more."

If you experience low blood glucose levels during or after exercise, especially if you plan to drive after exercising, be sure to consume about 15 grams of carbohydrate, wait 15 minutes, and drive only if your blood sugar has come back up to a safe level.