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How to Set and Reach Your Fitness Goals With Diabetes


Chris Iliades, MD

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Expert Q&A on Diabetes Complications

Serious complications can develop if you don't treat your diabetes properly.

Physical fitness is a big part of managing your diabetes. If you haven’t put your fitness goals and plans in place yet, now is the time to get started. Your goals, and the activities you use to get there, will depend on your fitness level and any medical limitations you may have.

The best way to start is to see your doctor. Ask what types of exercise are safe and if there are any limits. If you have certain conditions, your doctor may give you a specific fitness plan. These include heart disease, diabetic nerve pain (neuropathy), and diabetic eye problems (retinopathy).

On top of tracking your diet and blood sugar, regular exercise is a key part of managing your diabetes. And while any exercise is better than none, certain activities have specific benefits for people with diabetes.

2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

Fitness Basics

A few basic recommendations apply to most people with diabetes. There are two types of recommended exercise. Both help you use insulin better and lower your blood sugar:

  • Aerobic exercise: This exercise improves your circulation and strengthens your heart. Common examples are walking, swimming and biking.

  • Strength training exercise: This involves moves that build muscle. More muscle means your burn more calories during exercise. Common examples are free-weight lifting, calisthenics, and weight-lifting machines.

Here are the recommended fitness goals:

  • You should get 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise on at least five days of the week, or 150 minutes a week. Try not to skip more than two days. During moderate exercise, you should be able to talk but would struggle to sing. During vigorous exercise, it should be hard to talk. You can break up your 30 minutes of aerobic activity into 10-minute chunks if necessary.

  • You should do at least two sessions of strength training every week. This is in addition to your aerobic activity. Don't do strength training two days in a row.

Warm up before you exercise, including some comfortable stretching for 5 to 10 minutes. Do this again once you finish exercising. Stretching should not be painful. And don’t bounce; just hold the stretch for several seconds. Also, improve your balance by walking backwards, walking heel-to-toe, and standing on one leg. Stretching and balancing exercises help keep you flexible and make you less likely to fall or injure yourself.

Safety Tips for Getting Started

Once you've met with your doctor and set up your goals and plans, start slowly and exercise safely. This means:

  • Avoid exercising when you don’t feel well.
  • Avoid exercising outside if it is very cold or very hot.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
  • Wear a medical ID bracelet.
  • Wear supportive shoes with cushioned soles. Wear socks that absorb moisture. Check your feet after exercise for any bruising, redness or blisters.

  • If you feel short of breath or lightheaded during exercise or have any type of pain, stop exercising and check in with your doctor.

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Medical Reviewers: Farrokh Sohrabi, MD Last Review Date: Nov 6, 2015

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Injury-Free Exercise -- 11 Quick Safety Tips. American Diabetes Association.
  2. See Your Doctor. American Diabetes Association.
  3. Stretching and Balance Exercises. American Diabetes Association.
  4. What We Recommend. American Diabetes Association.

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