The Ultimate Guide to Exercise for Diabetes

The Ultimate Guide to Exercise for Diabetes

One of the best things you can do for your health when you have diabetes is to exercise regularly. Moving more has benefits for both diabetes and general wellbeing. You don't need a new year to get started, you can incorporate simple steps towards healthy changes anytime of year.

In this bumper blog, we cover the importance of exercise and the benefits, how to get active every day and a guide on exercise equipment to get started.

10 Benefits of Exercise

  1. Exercise reduces blood glucose levels
  2. Increases insulin sensitivity, which means you may be able to reduce the amount of medication or insulin you need
  3. Reduces high blood pressure, and therefore your risk of diabetes complications
  4. Improves cholesterol and helps protect against heart disease and stroke
  5. Keeps your joints flexible and your bones strong
  6. Helps you sleep better
  7. Helps you lose weight if you need to
  8. Reduces anxiety and improves your mood
  9. Helps you with balance
  10. Increases your life expectancy

What's Not to Love about Exercise?

The benefits to moving more are amazing, but we know that you may be anxious about how your body will cope. You may think it will be too tiring, or worry about how it will affect your blood glucose levels. You may wonder how it’s even possible when you have other health complications, or whether you will ever find the motivation to get started. We know there will be days when you don’t feel like doing much, you’re too busy, or it’s just too hot. These are all understandable concerns, but there is support out there to help you get going and stay motivated. Exercise is too important to ignore.

How to get Active Every Day with Diabetes

To start your exercise journey take a look at our brand-new resource ‘Active Every Day’. If you lack motivation you need this booklet to help you get started and keep you accountable. It covers a range of topics including:

  • How to keep your motivations front of mind
  • The benefits of seeing an Accredited Exercise Physiologist
  • How to create an exercise program that suits your life

There are activities and questions posed throughout that will give you new ways to think about exercise and ideas on how to tackle your healthy lifestyle goals head on.

Exercising with Diabetes

You can still exercise if you have diabetes complications, but you will need to think a bit more about the activity you choose. If you have eye or heart problems you should avoid high-intensity activity and heavy lifting. Try gentler, low-impact exercises instead such as swimming, cycling or walking.    

If you have neuropathy in your feet, or you have limited mobility, you might want to consider chair-based exercises. 

Talk to your GP for advice or meet with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to help you work out what’s safe for your individual circumstances. 

How does Physical Activity Affect Blood Glucose Levels?

Being physically active can affect your blood glucose levels in different ways. The way your body responds largely depends on what medications you are taking, your current fitness level, how long you have had diabetes and the type of exercise you are performing. Due to the blood glucose lowering effects of most exercise, it is important your BGLs are greater than 6mmol/L before you get started. However, you must also consider whether your BGLs are too high. High intensity exercise and resistance exercise (weights) can cause a short-term increase in your BGL. Always talk to your healthcare team before trying out a new exercise to find out how it could potentially affect your BGLs and what precautions you should take.

The general guidelines are:

Type 1 diabetes:

  • Safe to exercise: between 6-15mmol/L
  • Exercise with caution: >15mmol/L, no ketones present and feeling well
  • Delay exercise: >15mmol/L with ketones present

Type 2 diabetes:

  • Safe to exercise: between 6-15mmol/L
  • Exercise with caution: >15mmol/L and feeling well
  • Delay exercise: >15mmol/L and feeling unwell

What is the Best Exercise for Diabetes?

Activities that help to build strength, balance and flexibility are the best for your overall health and wellbeing. But the best exercise for you is the one you enjoy! There are a lot of great options to choose from, including walking, cycling, dancing, swimming, yoga, tai chi and light resistance training.

Tips to Stay Active at Home

We know lots of people are preferring to stay home currently and there are plenty of ways to stay active and keep moving from your home. Try these simple ideas to boost your activity level:

  • Get up from you chair and move during TV ad breaks 
  • Practise calf raises while you wait for the kettle to boil or when you are brushing your teeth
  • Use cans of food as weights, or try stretch bands for a full body workout
  • Clean your windows, vacuum the house or wash your car 
  • Spend time gardening
  • Take a look at this video for ideas on exercising in your home:

A Guide to Exercise Equipment and Final Tip!

When you're just getting started or if you need to update your exercise equipment, there's a variety of different options you can use safely in your own home to start exercising.

For aerobic exercise you can use a skipping rope and for resistance training you can try hand weights or stretch bands.  If getting out for a swim is more your thing you can also incorporate resistance training with Aqua Weights. Love bike riding but want to stay at home? Then try the pedal mover. 

Our last tip, remember that being active is even more beneficial if you’re also making healthier food choices, not smoking and getting enough sleep.


Beat it: A FREE 8-week program

Looking to join an exercise program? Beat it is a group exercise program available to people with diabetes registered with the NDSS.

Find out more here:

Ndss- beat-it

NSW: digital.diabetesnsw 

QLD: diabetesqld 

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