headshot of liz wilson elizabeth wilson in dark blue shirt with polka dots smiling

Written by Elizabeth Wilson, Diabetes Educator

Elizabeth is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist at NMC Health.

Regular physical activity has many benefits for people living with diabetes.  Physical activity can help improve blood sugar, improve blood pressure, can reduce your risk for heart disease, and helps you to achieve a healthy weight.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) and American Heart Association (AHA) recommend aiming for 150 minutes a week (30 minutes, 5 days a week) of moderate intensity physical activity.

There are a few things to consider when deciding on what type of exercise is best:  Do you enjoy it?  Is it safe for you to do?  Always check with your health care provider before starting or changing your exercise plan.

Sometimes people are not ready to tackle the entire 150 minutes. However, even 10-minute bouts a few times a day help you to meet the goal.  This could include a 10-minute walk before work, a 10-minute walk at lunchtime, and a 10-minute bike ride after dinner.  A successful exercise routine works into the demands of you day.  Here’s another idea:  many people walk during the commercial breaks of a 1-hour television program. Do you know how much walking that is? Twenty minutes – try it out!

Making exercise fun will help you stick with it.  Nobody wants to do 150 minutes of something they don’t enjoy.  Enlisting a fitness buddy can make exercise more enjoyable and also hold you accountable.  You could also try taking a new fitness class or join a walking club.

When someone living with diabetes begins an exercise program or changes their program, it is good to be mindful of safety. Exercise lowers blood sugar by improving the way cells uptake and use insulin and glucose (sugar). It is extremely important that you know how exercise affects your blood sugar and that you are prepared to treat hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Always carry your meter and hypoglycemia treatment with you.

Man picks up free weights at a gym as he exercises

What to know about hypoglycemia

  • In general, hypoglycemia is defined as blood sugar less than 70 mg/dl.
  • Symptoms may include: feeling dizzy, shaky, hungry, sweaty, weak, anxious or confused.
  • You should STOP what you are doing and check a blood sugar, if safely possible.
  • Treat with 15 grams of quick-acting carbohydrate and wait 15 minutes. This may include 4 glucose tablets, ½ cup of fruit juice or ½ can of regular soda pop (not diet).
  • Wait 15 minutes and recheck the blood sugar. If the reading is still below 70, treat again with quick-acting carbohydrate as instructed above.
  • If the blood sugar is above 70 mg/dl, eat a protein / carb snack like a package of peanut butter or cheese crackers or ½ sandwich.
  • If the blood sugar does not rise above 70 mg/dl or the symptoms don’t go away, call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room. Please do not drive a car with hypoglycemia.
  • Be sure to make a note of how exercise affected your blood sugar and let your doctor know.

Also, if your blood sugar is above 250 mg/dl, do not exercise until checking with your doctor or diabetes educator.

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