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Exercise, a little every day: your guide to exactly how to exercise with diabetes

We all know we should exercise every day… But it’s not always that easy to do. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to exactly how to exercise with diabetes, so that you can choose how you want to get active – and understand why.

Exercise is one of the 4 things you need to understand about diabetes management: remember TEEL.

Take your medication
Eat healthy food
Exercise, a little every day
Lose weight, if you need to

teel how to manage diabetes eat healthy

Exercise with diabetes

Let’s start with why it’s so important to exercise with diabetes. First of all, it’s important for everyone – with or without diabetes – to get some physical activity. Moving your body is an ingredient for good health. But when you have diabetes, it’s even more important.

This is for a few reasons.

  • Exercise can help you lose weight, if you need to. Here’s a detailed look at fat loss and diabetes, and what to do if you need to lose weight. And here’s how to manage your weight when you have diabetes – exercise can also help you bulk up if you’ve lost too much weight.
  • When you exercise, your body uses insulin better. Whether you’re injecting insulin or taking tablets, exercise makes your body more open to the insulin so your blood sugar is more likely to stay in range. Not sure what that range is? Here’s what normal blood sugar is.
  • Exercise makes you feel better. We know that diabetes and depression often go together, and exercise can help with that – it can be a mood booster. Here’s more information about diabetes and depression, if you need it.
diabetes and exercise tips

You don’t have to join a gym!

Many people put off getting fit because they think they have to join a gym or start a complicated fitness routine. You don’t! All you have to do is exercise a little, every day. The best thing to do to get started is to walk for 30 minutes a day.

That’s it! Just 30 minutes of walking every day. We don’t mean taking a slow stroll around the block while chatting to your friend – the walking should get you slightly puffed (so you can still talk, but not very easily). You can always start slow and get faster or start walking more uphill as you get more and more fit. Here are all the tips you need to get started with a walking routine.

Not a fan of walking? Don’t worry – we have loads of other exercise suggestions for you! Check them out here.

Tips for diabetic exercise

If you’re nervous about starting a new exercise routine, it’s important to speak to your doctor – especially if you have high blood pressure or any other condition. Here are some excellent tips from a biokineticist about what to do before you start exercising.

  1. Don’t begin exercising if your blood sugar is either too high or too low (over 14 or below 4.5).
  2. If you are using insulin, always take something sweet with you when you exercise, in case of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
  3. Avoid injecting into large muscle groups just before exercising. The insulin could be absorbed more quickly than usual because you’re working the muscle.

Fun ways to exercise with diabetes

It can be really helpful to do group exercise, where you gather a few friends and all commit to exercising together. Here are some ideas for fun group exercise – including walking groups, 5-a-side soccer and boot camp!

Dance your way to fitness today with these great ideas for diabetic exercise. And these awesome dance moves!

If you’re not so keen on getting sweaty, start with a more gentle type of exercise. Stretching is very helpful before any exercise – here’s a step-by-step guide to stretching for diabetics. And yoga can make a big difference to blood sugar. Here’s how to get started with yoga at home.

And if you don’t know where to begin, start with these 10 fun ways to diabetic fitness. The most important thing is that you begin something, today. You can do it!

When you start treating exercise like hard work, that’s exactly what it will become. Your exercise routine should be light, fun and exciting rather than something you have to do. Don’t let yourself get a bad attitude towards exercise: if this happens you’ll be more likely to give up than press on to reach your exercise goals.

Ilona Padayachee, Biokineticist

No time to exercise? That’s no excuse!

We know that sometimes you really only have 20 minutes free in your day. So we asked the experts to give us five options for 20 minute exercise routines that will give your health – and your diabetes control – a boost. Here they are.

If you really don’t have time to exercise, we’ve rounded up some ideas for how to exercise at work. Yes, it’s even possible to get fit while sitting at a desk! Try out these great stretches, or start with this one magic tip from podiatrist Anette Thompson:

“Doing 300 heel raises a day is the same as going for a long walk. People who haven’t done them before should aim for 50 heel raises in a day, then gradually build up the repetitions until you can do them all in your lunchtime.”

Anette Thompson, Podiatrist

Your questions, answered

What kind of exercise is best for diabetics? What time of day is best for exercise with diabetes? How long should you exercise with diabetes? Find all the answers from the experts, here.

We know that starting regular exercise can seem like just another thing you have to do for your diabetes. And it is! But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Join Diabetic South Africans to share your ideas for fun exercise with diabetes – and get ideas from others!

What to read next?

How to lose weight with diabetes: Expert tips to help you succeed.

FAQ: Exercising with diabetes: Two biokineticists (fitness experts) answer all your questions about diabetes and exercise.

Eat healthy for diabetes: The one article you need to read about diabetes and diet.

Photo by sk on Unsplash and Photo by Ryan Clark on Unsplash

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  1. […] Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the first step to managing diabetes and reducing the risk of developing further health complications. Regular exercise is an excellent way of keeping active and managing stress. (Here’s our best advice about exercise!) […]

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.