Exercise with Diabetes in Mind

Nearly 30 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, while another estimated 8 million Americans are undiagnosed. If those numbers sound high, a staggering 86 million Americans 20 and older are considered pre-diabetic and likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if lifestyle modifications are not made and sustained. Once diagnosed, diabetes is a condition many live with and manage for the rest of their lives. While adopting healthy lifestyles to help manage diabetes, along with medication therapies, regular physical activity and exercise can greatly benefit anyone – especially those living with diabetes. However, this does not mean you can just jump on the treadmill and stop thinking about your diabetes. While exercise can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce your overall risk of developing heart disease or suffering from a stroke, special attention needs to be made before, during and after exercise if you have diabetes.

Before and During Exercise

First, if you have not already done so, talk with your health care provider about the most appropriate exercise for you. From walking to swimming or taking an exercise class, your health care provider can suggest the best activity for your current physical fitness and diabetes considerations. Second, if you are taking insulin or other blood sugar lowering medications, check your blood sugar 30 minutes prior to engaging in exercise. You will also need to check it again every 30 minutes while you exercise to make sure your blood sugar levels are stable. If blood sugar levels are rising or falling, it may not be safe to continue exercise. Finally, know the guidelines for blood sugar levels while exercising.

Less than 100mg/dL – To help bring up blood sugar levels for safe exercise, eat a small carbohydrate like crackers, a small piece of fruit or drink a half of a cup of fruit juice, take three to four glucose tablets, or eat five or six pieces of hard candy before starting and continuing exercise.  Retest again after 15 minutes. If it is still too low, eat or drink something again and retest after 15 minutes. Do not continue exercising until readings are above 70 mg/dL.

100 mg/dL to 250mg/dL – This is a safe range to exercise.

250mg/dL to 300mg/dL – Before starting or continuing exercise, test your urine for ketones. Excess ketones in urine suggest your body does not have enough insulin to control your blood sugar, putting you at risk for a serious complication.

Above 300 mg/dL – Your blood sugar levels are too high to exercise safely, potentially causing dehydration and elevated ketones. Wait until your blood sugar is within a safe range to exercise.

If you are planning a long or more strenuous workout than normal, make arrangements to test your blood sugar every 30 minutes – even if you are exercising outdoors.

After Exercise

As soon as you finish your workout, check your blood sugar and again several times throughout the day. Your body will continue to draw on sugar from your blood as it recovers from the workout. It is possible to have low blood sugar even several hours after a strenuous workout. Eat or drink something to help raise your blood sugar as needed throughout the day. If you have any concerns, or are not able to manage your blood sugar while exercising, talk to your health care provider about adjustments you may need to make.

For more information about managing diabetes, please visit our library of Healthy Steps videos on diabetes here.