Exercise and Diabetes

Extra Carbs for Exercise, or ExCarbs, provide the yardstick to measure the impact an exercise will have on the blood sugars.

Diabetes does not have to stop you from enjoying sports or staying in shape. People with diabetes have excelled at various sports, including football, basketball, baseball, swimming, golf and more with proper blood sugar management. The accomplishments of Team Type 1, who have found their own innovative ways to excel at biking and running, are particularly motivational.

The benefits of exercising include:
  • Improved blood sugar control
  • Weight loss
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Improved circulation
  • Increased muscle strength and tone
  • Improved digestion & appetite control
  • Better sleep
  • Improved mood, attitude, self-esteem
  • Increased energy levels

Physical activity is recommended for everyone. It should take place any time a person can and is willing. The minimum amount recommended is about 30 minutes, 3 or more times a week. The activity can include moderate walking and household chores, such as gardening and cleaning, as well as jogging, biking, dancing and all other sorts of exercise.

Let Your Goal Determine How You Exercise
Your Goal Frequency Intensity Duration
Reduce Risk of
Heart Disease
and Illness
2-3 times
a week
40% max.
heart rate
15-30 min.
Get Physically Fit 4 times
a week
70-90% max.
heart rate
15-30 min.
Lose Weight 5 times
a week
45-60% max.
heart rate
45-60 min.
Adapted from Using Insulin © 2003

When starting an exercise plan be sure to warm up, set a comfortable pace, wear good shoes, and drink plenty of water. Make it as enjoyable as possible without overdoing it. Recruiting a partner makes it easier to commit to it.  Be consistent with the duration and intensity of the exercise, then gradually increase the length of the activity by a few minutes every week. Check your blood glucose levels before and after you exercise.

If you are taking insulin or a diabetes medication that can cause lows, be sure to have fast-acting carbohydrates with you at all times. Take your meter and strips with you whenever possible. Wear a medical identification device such as an ID bracelet or ID card. Slow your pace if you are experiencing shortness of breath or are having difficulty breathing. If any unusual pain occurs to stop the exercise immediately. Inject insulin into the abdominal area when exercising the legs or arms, to ensure proper absorption of the insulin.

Before starting an exercise plan be sure to consult with your health care provider.

When not to exercise:

  • If you’re ill
  • In extreme heat or cold
  • During peak insulin action times
  • If your blood sugar is high, exercise will usually help bring it down. But if your blood sugar is over 250 and you have ketones in the urine or blood, do not exercise. Drink lots of water, and take insulin as needed to correct the situation.

Visit the Diabetes Exercise and Sports Association site for more information about exercise and diabetes.