Diabetes and physical activity: Getting started

Being physically active is a great way to feel great and get many health benefits. If you have diabetes and are thinking about getting active, find out how you can get started today.

What are the benefits of physical activity for people with diabetes?

Being physically active can help you:

  • Manage your blood glucose and avoid diabetes-related complications.
  • Take less medication. Being active may help you manage your blood glucose levels so you can take less medication. Always follow your doctor’s advice on taking medications.
  • Live healthier for longer. People with type 2 diabetes tend to live longer when they are regularly active.
  • Manage your weight: Being active can help with managing and maintaining your weight.
  • Feel great. Being active can energize you, help you sleep better and improve your mood. 

Who should I talk to before getting started?

If you are new to physical activity, speak to your health care provider before getting started. Your diabetes team can give you advice and tips to help you monitor your blood glucose and any other health conditions. 

How much physical activity should I aim for? 

Try to be active for at least 150 minutes per week. That’s about 30 minutes a day on five days of the week. You can start with just 10 minute at a time. Choose activities that you enjoy and try things you can do with your family. Here are some ideas:

  • Walk after lunch or dinner either outdoors or in a mall.
  • Plan active weekends. Visit the zoo, a museum or go on a hike.
  • Take the stairs at work and in your apartment building.
  • Get off the bus a few stops early and walk the rest of the way.
  • Swim, play tag or ride bikes with your kids.
  • Try an exercise video or DVD.
  • Do more errands on foot.
  • Take a dance, tai chi, fitness or yoga class.
  • Try to do activities that:
  • Increase your heart rate: such as walking, swimming, cycling and aerobics
  • Use your muscles: such as push-ups and lifting weights

Do I need to worry about low blood sugar when I am active? 

If your diabetes is managed by lifestyle or oral medication, you have a low risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) during physical activity. If you use insulin, you are at higher risk of hypoglycemia during physical activity. Monitoring your blood glucose is recommended before, during and after physical activity.

What are some tips to manage my blood glucose before and during physical activity? 

Before physical activity

Eat a small meal or snack about 30 to 90 minutes before you are active. A combination of protein and carbohydrates is a good idea. If you are on insulin, your doctor may suggest that you eat a specific amount of carbohydrate-rich foods before being active, depending on:

  • Your insulin dose
  • How long and hard you exercise
  • Your blood glucose level

During physical activity

If your diabetes is managed by lifestyle or medication, eating carbohydrates during physical activity is not necessary. If you are on insulin, you may need a small snack during your activity, especially if it lasts one hour or longer. Keep fast-absorbing carbohydrates nearby, like hard candy or glucose tablets, in case your blood glucose levels get too low. Work with a Registered Dietitian for a personalized advice on meals, snacks and an activity plan that works for you.

Set yourself up for success! 

You will be more likely to stick to your physical activity plan if you:

  • Choose activities you enjoy.
  • Set realistic goals. Get inspired with these goals.
  • Partner with a buddy to support each other. Or, ask friends and family for their support.
  • Don’t let setbacks discourage you. Setbacks are normal.
  • Monitor your blood glucose. Discuss any questions with your doctor.

Bottom line 

Being active is very important for people with diabetes. It can help with blood glucose levels, weight management and can help you feel your best. Check with your doctor and work with a Registered Dietitian before starting a new physical activity program to make sure it is right for you. And, choose activities you love so being active is fun! Call EatRight Ontario to speak with a Registered Dietitian at 1-877-510-510-2 and ask your physical activity questions.

You may also be interested in 

Tips for getting active at any age
Let’s get active. A senior’s guide to physical activity
eaTracker: Reach your goals

Last Update – September 21, 2016

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.