Keep Active with Diabetes: Exercise Tips

Exercise is unquestionably important, especially if you have diabetes. Get started by following these five recommendations.

Complete a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week.

Try walking, running, cycling or swimming at an intensity equivalent to 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. To determine your maximum heart rate minus your age from 220, for example, an individual aged 45 years will have a predicted maximum heart rate of 175 bpm. Then 60% of 175 is 105 bpm and 70% of 175 is 122 bpm.

Individuals that currently meet this exercise guideline may receive greater benefit from performing 125 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise. Try multiple short bouts of stair climbing or hill sprints, interspersed with 2 minutes of passive or active rest, e.g. sitting or walking, respectively. Aim to reach 75-85% of your maximum heart rate. Using the above example of a 45 year old, 75% is 131 bpm and 85% is 148 bpm.

Complete two or more resistance training sessions per week.

Resistance exercises engage large muscle groups and develop strength and stability. Try lifting free weights, your own body weight or using a theraband for resistance. Be sure to complete both lower and upper body exercises such as squats, lunges, push ups and chin ups. Perform a minimum of 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions, with 1 minute rest intervals between sets, for each exercise. Repetitions should be performed at a weight that cannot be lifted more than 10-12 times in one set. Finally, aerobic and resistance training can be combined in one session.

Exercise should be performed at least three days each week, with no more than two consecutive days without exercise.

A single bout of exercise enhances insulin sensitivity for 24 hours. However, the acute benefits start to decline 48 hours after a bout of exercise. Therefore, maximise the glucose-lowering effects by completing exercise every second day. Exercise helps to regulate your daily blood glucose because muscle contractions during movement provide a stimulus for glucose to enter the active muscle without the presence of insulin.

Additional health benefits of exercising with diabetes include improvements in body composition, fitness, heart and lung health, physical function and well-being

Complete a minimum of 10, 000 steps per day.

Bed rest, a reduction in incidental activity and cessation of exercise training quickly leads to a decline in insulin sensitivity. A study completed in Missouri, Columbia found that a reduction in physical activity from 10, 000 to 5, 000 steps per day caused a twofold increase in peak blood glucose following a meal. Regular physical activity plays a key role in the day-to-day maintenance of glycemic control.

Monitor your blood glucose prior to and following exercise.

Speak to your General Practitioner or Diabetes Educator about your target glucose ranges. Never exercise if you are experiencing a “hypo” (i.e. blood glucose level below 4.0 mmol/L) and always keep a small carbohydrate snack, like a fruit drink, on hand in case your blood glucose becomes low during or following exercise. Pay extra attention to your glucose levels during illness as metabolic control can be unpredictable. It may be necessary to modify or suspend your exercise routine when you are ill. Finally, take advantage of the acute glucose lowering effect of exercise by timing the session approximately 30-60 minutes after a meal.


Hordern, M. D., Dunstan, D. W., Prins, J. B., Baker, M. K., Fiatarone Singh, M. A. & Coombes, J. S. (2012). Exercise prescription for patients with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes: A position statement from Exercise and Sports Science Australia. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 15: 25-31.
 Mikus, C. R., Oberlin, D. J., Libla, J. L., Taylor, A. M., Booth, F. W. & Thyfault, J. P. (2012). Lowering physical activity impairs glycemic control in healthy volunteers. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 44 (2), 225-231.

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