Exercising With Diabetes:
The Benefits of Increasing Your Activity
Exercising with diabetes
If you have diabetes, it is very important to exercise safely. These tips are very important to remember:
- Check your blood sugar before and after exercise:
- Do not exercise if your blood sugar is too high (more than 300 milligrams [mg]/deciliter [dL])
- Do not exercise if your blood sugar is too low (less than 100 mg/dL)
- Carry a convenient source of carbohydrate with you:
- If your blood sugar drops too low while you are exercising, you want to have something immediately on hand to help bring your blood sugar back up, such as:
- Glucose tablets
- Fruit candies (Life Savers®, hard candies, or jelly beans)
- Fruit juice or regular soda
- Wear diabetes identification
- Stop exercising if you feel lightheaded or dizzy, feel pain, or have shortness of breath
- Wear proper shoes—check your feet for blisters, redness, or other injuries
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Avoid exercising in extremely hot, humid, or cold weather
- Know the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar:
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Change in coordination
Increasing activity can seem difficult and overwhelming until you get started. The key is to find something that you enjoy doing. Here are some suggestions to help you overcome some challenges that you may face.
Always stretch before and after exercise, and always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Make realistic goals
Going from no exercise to exercising three times a week for 1 hour at the local gym is not realistic! Make your goals reachable and doable. You can build from there.
Schedule exercise as you would other appointments
Make exercise a priority. After all, you are the priority in your life! Remember that making small changes now can increase both the quantity and quality of your life!
Exercise with someone
Ask a friend or family member to help you or exercise with you. Others can help motivate and encourage you to keep you on track. Also, exercise is more fun with a friend or family member.
Include a variety of activities
This will help keep you from getting bored with the same routine every time you exercise. Remember, many different activities count as exercise, including dancing, yard work, water aerobics, stretching, and chair exercises.
Choosing the right activity
The most important thing to remember is to choose an activity that works for you. This means choosing something that you enjoy and that your body can handle physically.
The following are some ideas:
- Walking around your house, neighborhood, or a mall
- Stretching, tai chi, or yoga
- Staying active around the house—gardening, raking leaves, vacuuming, washing your car by hand, etc
- Joining an exercise class—water aerobics, yoga, aerobics, etc
- Getting involved in a sport—tennis, golfing, bowling, swimming, bicycling, dancing, etc
- Walking whenever you can—walking to the mailbox, taking the dog for a walk, parking the car farther away from where you are going, taking the stairs, getting up to change the television channels
- Doing chair exercises (see next section)
The ultimate goal is to stay active for 30 minutes/day. Remember, you want to gradually build up to this point. If you try to go for it all at once, you may get injured, become too tired, or discover you are too overwhelmed. Also keep in mind that you can split up your activity during the day, for example 15 minutes when you first wake up and 15 minutes before you go to bed.
Doing chair exercises
Many people think that they cannot increase their activity because of physical limitations, such as bad knees, poor balance, difficulty breathing, arthritis, etc. Chair exercises are an excellent way to increase activity without putting too much strain on the body, joints, or lungs. It is also important to remember that you can split up your exercise during the day. Do 15 minutes of chair exercises when you first wake up in the morning and 15 minutes more before you go to bed. Once again, find a routine that works for you and your body!
Here are some simple chair exercises you can use:
For your arms
- Sitting with your back straight, raise both arms straight out to the sides (parallel to the ground). Make sure your shoulders are relaxed. Rotate your arms in circles—10 times to the front and 10 times to the back.
- Keeping your elbow at your side, bend your arm to bring one hand upward toward your shoulder. Do 10 sets on each arm.
Tip: Use “weights” (either light dumbbells or a heavy can from the kitchen) to help increase the resistance. Hold the weight in your hand as you move your hand upward toward your shoulder.
- Raise one arm straight out to the side, parallel with the ground. Repeat 10 times for each arm.
Tip: Use “weights” (either light dumbbells or a heavy can from the kitchen) to help increase the resistance. Hold the weight in your hand as you lift your arm. Make sure you keep your elbow slightly bent and your shoulder relaxed.
For your shoulders
- Raise one hand high above the head (careful—do not strain too hard). Keep your shoulder relaxed. Repeat 10 times for each arm.
- Keeping your shoulders relaxed, place your hands on your shoulders (right hand on right shoulder, left hand on left shoulder). Bring your elbows together so they touch. Repeat 10 times.
For your torso
- Raise your arms above your head, keeping shoulders relaxed and elbows slightly bent. Gently lean to the right until you feel a light stretch and hold for 10 seconds. Then gently lean to the left and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat up to 10 times.
- Keeping your back straight, move your hands down your leg toward your ankle and back up again (as if putting on socks). Repeat 10 times for each leg.
For your legs
- Place both feet flat on the floor, with your feet directly below your knees (your legs should make a 90º angle). Raise one foot up, so that your whole leg is extended straight out. Lift your leg only as high as you can. Repeat 10 times, and then repeat using the other leg.
- Place both feet flat on the floor, with your feet directly below your knees (your legs should make a 90º angle). Raise your heels up as high as you can, while keeping your toes on the ground (your toes will point downward). Repeat 15 times.
Tip: Place a book (not too heavy) on your lap, so that the edge of the book is at your knees. This will help increase the resistance while you raise your heels.
- Place both feet flat on the floor, with your feet directly below your knees (your legs should make a 90º angle). Raise one leg up, so that your foot is a few inches from the ground. Rotate your ankle in circles for 10 seconds—first to the right and then to the left. Repeat with the other ankle.
References and recommended readings
American Diabetes Association®. Don’t let diabetes get in your way. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/getting-motivated/dont-let-diabetes-get-in.html. Accessed June 19, 2012.
American Diabetes Association. Ideas for exercise. Available at:
http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/ideas-for-exercise/?loc=DropDownFF-exerciseideas. Accessed June 19, 2012
Contributed by Emily Workman, RD
Updated by Nutrition411.com staff
Review Date 6/12