Exercising Caution When You Have Diabetes
by Karen Schroeder Kassel, MS, RD, MEd
Exercise can help keep blood sugar under control. It can also lower the risk of other health problems like heart disease. But there are some safety steps to keep in mind.
The Importance of Balance
A balance of eating, exercise, and insulin can help keep type 1 diabetes in balance.
But, your body does not produce insulin if you have type 1 diabetes. You must take over as the regulator of blood sugar. This is an important job, as both high and low blood sugar levels can have serious health consequences.
In type 2 diabetes, your body produces insulin, but your body either cannot use it properly or does not make enough. People who manage type 2 diabetes with meal planning and exercise usually do not have problems with hypoglycemia. But if you use insulin injections or take some types of oral medications, you may be at risk for exercise-induced hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia is a low blood glucose level. Blood glucose levels below 70 mg/dL [3.9 mmol/L] are considered too low. It can lead to shakiness, sweating, headache, pale skin, irritability, clumsy movements, and confusion. Very low levels can lead to more serious illness. Hypoglycemia is a risk for everyone with type 1 diabetes due to use of insulin. It can also happen in people with type 2 diabetes who use insulin or other medicine that lowers glucose.
The benefits of exercise are much greater than the risk of hypoglycemia. A few simple steps can also help you safely exercise:
Always have blood testing tool, insulin, and snacks with you. Good snacks include juice, glucose tablets or gel, or hard candy. Talk to your care team if you have a lot of very low or very high blood glucose with exercise. Your care plan may need to be changed.
Diabetes can cause a change in small blood vessels and nerves. The feet are one of the first areas to be affected. Take good care of your feet. Check for blisters or other changes after every workout. Buy footwear that is suited for your sport and that fits you well. Wear clean, smooth-fitting socks. Choose synthetic fibers over cotton.
Careful planning can help to manage diabetes. Exercise is the same. Find an activity you enjoy and get moving!
American Diabetes Association
Joslin Diabetes Center
Canadian Diabetes Association
Blood glucose and exercise. American Diabetes Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed June 10, 2020.
Diabetes diet, eating, & physical activity. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/diet-eating-physical-activity. Updated December 2016. Accessed June 10, 2020.
Low blood glucose (hyypoglycemia). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/low-blood-glucose-hypoglycemia. Updated August 2016. Accessed June 10, 2020.
Physical activity for type 2 diabetes. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated February 7, 2020. Accessed June 10, 2020.
Last reviewed June 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 6/10/2020
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