Diabetes and exercise

Diabetes and exercise

Diabetes Centre

Diabetes and exercise

An old proverb says that those who do not find time for exercise will have to find the time for illness! Exercise should be an essential part of your daily routine if you are a diabetic.

An ideal exercise routine for a diabetic is a combination of endurance and resistance exercise.

  • Endurance type exercise is exercise such as cycling or brisk walking for longer than half an hour, and is of a lower intensity.
  • Resistance or interval type of exercise is usually ‘stop start’ in nature, such as circuit training or weight lifting, and is of higher intensity.

Always consult a health care professional before starting an exercise routine. He or she should check for eye disease (retinopathy); damage to the nerves and nerve endings (neuropathy); examine your feet; and take your blood pressure.

New guidelines on exercise for people with diabetes recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise spread out over at least three days during the week, with no more than two consecutive days between bouts of aerobic activity. Research done by the American College of Sports Medicine, and reported in December 2012, shows that “aerobic activity alone cannot give the full benefit of exercise to diabetic individuals. Recent research has shown that resistance exercise (strength training) is as important as and perhaps even more important than aerobic training in diabetes management. The latest studies … have reinforced the additional benefit of combining aerobic and resistance training for people with diabetes.”

Try to exercise at the same time every day. Find the type of exercise that suits your lifestyle and situation. If you need to lose some weight, take up non-weight bearing exercise such as swimming or cycling. Of benefit to the elderly, in particular, are structured classes such as yoga. Even a round of golf in a busy corporate schedule can be very relaxing and beneficial.

Always be aware of what your blood glucose level is. Take both a blood glucose and a urine ketone test before, during and after exercise. When the blood glucose level is above 15 to 16 mmol/l, and there are ketones in the urine indicating a lack of insulin, postpone your exercise.

Keep well hydrated during exercise. As a guide, drink 250 to 500ml of fluid for every hour of exercise.

Eat something extra during and after exercise. Experts recommend an additional 10 to 15g of carbohydrates for every hour of exercise, for example 125ml of fruit juice, a small banana or three Provitas.

Always wear some sort of identification, such as a MedicAlert bracelet, stating that you are a diabetic. Inform your exercise partners that you are a diabetic and explain what they should do in an emergency.

Always have sugar (sweets or cold drink) and a light snack with you when exercising. This could save your life if your blood sugar drops too low.

Our Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP) is available 24 hours a day if you want to discuss or know more about diabetes. Call us on 0861 872 862 or email us at
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