Exercise is beneficial for people with diabetes. One recent study found that people with type 2 diabetes who walked three miles a day or performed an equivalent amount of physical activity lost weight and lowered their heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and HbA1c. Exercise is also good for your mental health.

Helpful hint: Try to do errands on foot; it can help reduce your risk of diabetes and help you manage your condition. If your favorite stores are in walking distance of your home, you're in luck. A study published in Diabetes Care suggests that people who live within a 10-minute walk of their go-to destinations may be almost half as likely to develop diabetes as those who live in less walkable neighborhoods. (Of course, you have to actually walk to these places to reap the benefit!)

How much exercise is enough?

With a doctor's approval, most adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can follow the American Heart Association and American College of Sports Medicine recommendation to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week or at least 20 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity three days a week. These guidelines define "moderate" as equivalent to walking at a pace of three to four miles per hour.

It does not matter whether the 30 minutes is continuous or divided into short bursts of 10 minutes each, three times a day. Brisk walking, jogging, biking, and calisthenics are good aerobic activities, but so are walking short distances instead of driving, walking up stairs instead of taking the elevator, and pedaling on a stationary bicycle while watching television or reading. Gardening, housework, raking leaves, dancing, and playing with children also count as part of the 30-minute total—if they are performed at a level of intensity similar to brisk walking and for at least 10 minutes each.

If you need to lose weight, the Institute of Medicine recommends getting even more exercise—an hour a day—but you should work up to that amount gradually.

Exercise Precautions

Before starting any exercise program, you should check with your doctor. If you have arthritis or damage to nerves and blood vessels in your feet and legs, you may need to avoid foot trauma. That might mean replacing brisk walking or jogging with swimming or bicycling. People with heart disease or blockages in major blood vessels may need a similar, low-stress exercise program. Your doctor can refer you to an exercise physiologist to help you plan an exercise regimen that will minimize any risks.

During exercise your cells take in glucose and use it for energy, which causes a drop in your blood glucose level. Therefore, if you use insulin or oral diabetes medications, you must test your blood before and after exercise. You'll probably need to adjust your medication dosages and your food intake to prevent blood glucose highs and lows. For example, many people with diabetes find that after vigorous exercise, their blood glucose drops dramatically and then shoots up because the body compensates for running out of energy. This can often be avoided by having a small snack before you exercise to boost your blood glucose level.

Written by: Christopher D. Saudek, M.D.; Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D. Updated by Remedy Health Media and Healthcommunities' sister publication Diabetes Focus Spring, 2013

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 20 Apr 2009

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015