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Being physically active

Being physically active

Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to manage diabetes. Being physically active means you have engaged in an activity that has increased your heart rate and breathing above resting levels. The time for the activity can be at least 10 to 20 minutes long. This can include any form of movement, no matter how simple -- like walking, cleaning the house, doing some exercise or dancing. Physical activity helps maintain target blood glucose levels, increases energy and helps control weight, all of which are key to managing diabetes.

Before you start:

  • If you have been inactive for a while, talk to your doctor before you engage in an exercise program.
  • Be mindful of the possible risks of physical activity, such as hypoglycemia.
  • Have glucose tablets or other fast acting carbohydrate (sugar sweetened beverage, fat free milk, candy) handy in case your blood glucose drops.
  • Wear sneakers or comfortable shoes.
  • Warm up & cool down.
  • Do not overdo it; start slowly.
  • Check feet for sores or blisters before and after exercise.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.


Here are some guidelines to help you do your activity/exercise safely:

  • Blood sugar levels should be between 100-250 mg/dl (5.5-13.8 mmoL) before exercise.
  • Insulin should not be injected into the exercising limbs.
  • If your blood sugar level is below 80 mg/dl (4.4 mmol/L) 15 minutes before exercising, consume 15 g of quick-acting carbohydrates, then follow the 15/15 rule.
  • If your blood sugar level is below 80 mg/dl (4.4 mmol/L) immediately after exercising, consume 15 g of quick-acting carbohydrates. Follow the 15/15 Rule.

Suitable physical activity exercises

Depending on your actual physical activity status, there are types of activities that you can do on a daily basis.

Select from one or more of the following activities. Aim for 10 - 20 minutes of activity every day:

  • Walk at a brisk pace: that allows you to feel your heart rate increase.
  • If you have a desk job, get up, stretch and walk around at least once every hour.
  • Park your car farther to get some extra steps in.
  • Play with your kids.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator. If your office or apartment is on an upper floor, take the elevator until you are two or three flights away and walk up the rest of the way.
  • Do some extra walking at the mall before you do your shopping by parking farther away from the stores.
  • Walk around or consider buying a portable pedaling machine that you use while talking on the phone or watching TV.
  • Stretch your major muscles (legs, chest, back, arms) every day.

Overcoming barriers

Here are tips that can help you deal with some of the barriers that may prevent you from being more physically active:

  • Visualize how much better you will look and feel.
  • Set achievable goals. Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Be open to trying different activities.
  • Seek professional help if you have special health conditions or physical challenges.
  • Set a specific time to exercise and make it part of your daily routine – first thing in the morning works best if you want to fit it into a busy schedule.
  • Find a partner to exercise with.
  • Exercise while watching TV -- do abdominal exercises during TV commercials.
  • Find close and easy access to exercise.
  • If you can’t afford a gym, consider low-cost home equipment such as stretch cords, a floor mat, a few weights, an exercise ball, exercise videos, or using your own body weight for resistance.
  • Look for employer-sponsored/subsidized gym memberships.
  • Organize exercise activities at work, such as a morning walking group, stretching sessions or yoga sessions. Or start a pedometer challenge.
  • Challenge yourself as you improve.