How can I take care of my diabetes?
Diabetes means your blood glucose, also called
blood sugar, is too high. Your body uses glucose for
energy. But having too much glucose in your blood
can hurt you.
When you take care of your diabetes, you’ll feel
better. You’ll reduce your risk for problems with
your kidneys, eyes, nerves, feet and legs, and
teeth. You’ll also lower your risk for a heart
attack or a stroke. You can take care of your
- being physically active
- following a healthy meal plan
- taking medicines, if prescribed by your
What can a physically active
lifestyle do for me?
Research has shown that physical activity can
- lower your blood glucose and your blood
- lower your bad cholesterol and raise your
- improve your body’s ability to use insulin
- lower your risk for heart disease and stroke
- keep your heart and bones strong
- keep your joints flexible
- lower your risk of falling
- help you lose weight
- reduce your body fat
- give you more energy
- reduce your stress levels
Physical activity also plays an important part in
preventing type 2 diabetes. A major Government
study, the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), showed
that modest weight loss of 5 to 7 percent—for
example, 10 to 15 pounds for a 200-pound person—can
delay and possibly prevent type 2 diabetes. People
in the study used diet and exercise to lose weight.
What kinds of physical activity
can help me?
Four kinds of activity can help. You can
- be extra active every day
- do aerobic exercise
- do strength training
Be Extra Active Every Day
Being extra active can increase the number of
calories you burn. Try these ways to be extra
active, or think of other things you can do.
- Walk around while you talk on the phone.
- Play with the kids.
- Take the dog for a walk.
- Get up to change the TV channel instead of
using the remote control.
- Work in the garden or rake leaves.
- Clean the house.
- Wash the car.
- Stretch out your chores. For example, make
two trips to take the laundry downstairs instead
- Park at the far end of the shopping center
parking lot and walk to the store.
- At the grocery store, walk down every aisle.
- At work, walk over to see a co-worker
instead of calling or emailing.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Stretch or walk around instead of taking a
coffee break and eating.
- During your lunch break, walk to the post
office or do other errands.
- Other things I can do:
Do Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise is activity that requires the
use of large muscles and makes your heart beat
faster. You will also breathe harder during aerobic
exercise. Doing aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a
day at least 5 days a week provides many benefits.
You can even split up those 30 minutes into several
parts. For example, you can take three brisk
10-minute walks, one after each meal.
If you haven’t exercised lately, see your doctor
first to make sure it’s OK for you to increase your
level of physical activity. Talk with your doctor
about how to warm up and stretch before you exercise
and how to cool down after you exercise. Then start
slowly with 5 to 10 minutes a day. Add a little more
time each week, aiming for at least 150 minutes per
- walking briskly
- climbing stairs
- swimming or taking a water-aerobics class
- riding a bicycle outdoors or a stationary
- taking an aerobics class
- playing basketball, volleyball, or other
- in-line skating, ice skating, or skate
- playing tennis
- cross-country skiing
- other things I can do:
Do Strength Training
Doing exercises with hand weights, elastic bands,
or weight machines three times a week builds muscle.
When you have more muscle and less fat, you’ll burn
more calories because muscle burns more calories
than fat, even between exercise sessions. Strength
training can help make daily chores easier,
improving your balance and coordination, as well as
your bones’ health. You can do strength training at
home, at a fitness center, or in a class. Your
health care team can tell you more about strength
training and what kind is best for you.
Stretching increases your flexibility, lowers
stress, and helps prevent muscle soreness after
other types of exercise. Your health care team can
tell you what kind of stretching is best for you.
Can I exercise any time I want?
Your health care team can help you decide the
best time of day for you to exercise. Together, you
and your team will consider your daily schedule,
your meal plan, and your diabetes medicines.
If you have type 1 diabetes, avoid strenuous
exercise when you have ketones in your blood or
urine. Ketones are chemicals your body might make
when your blood glucose level is too high and your
insulin level is too low. Too many ketones can make
you sick. If you exercise when you have ketones in
your blood or urine, your blood glucose level may go
If you have type 2 diabetes and your blood
glucose is high but you don’t have ketones, light or
moderate exercise will probably lower your blood
glucose. Ask your health care team whether you
should exercise when your blood glucose is high.
Are there any types of
physical activity I shouldn’t do?
If you have diabetes complications, some kinds of
exercise can make your problems worse. For example,
activities that increase the pressure in the blood
vessels of your eyes, such as lifting heavy weights,
can make diabetic eye problems worse. If nerve
damage from diabetes has made your feet numb, your
doctor may suggest that you try swimming instead of
walking for aerobic exercise.
When you have numb feet, you might not feel pain
in your feet. Sores or blisters might get worse
because you don’t notice them. Without proper care,
minor foot problems can turn into serious
conditions, sometimes leading to amputation. Make
sure you exercise in cotton socks and comfortable,
well-fitting shoes designed for the activity you are
doing. After you exercise, check your feet for cuts,
sores, bumps, or redness. Call your doctor if any
foot problems develop.
Can physical activity cause
low blood glucose?
Physical activity can cause low blood glucose,
also called hypoglycemia, in people who take insulin
or certain types of diabetes medicines. Ask your
health care team whether your diabetes medicines can
cause low blood glucose.
Low blood glucose can happen while you exercise,
right afterward, or even up to a day later. It can
make you feel shaky, weak, confused, grumpy, hungry,
or tired. You may sweat a lot or get a headache. If
your blood glucose drops too low, you could pass out
or have a seizure.
However, you should still be physically active.
These steps can help you be prepared for low blood
- Ask your health care team whether you should
check your blood glucose level before
- If you take diabetes medicines that can
cause low blood glucose, ask your health care
team whether you should
- change the amount you take before you
- have a snack if your blood glucose level
is below 100
- Wear your medical identification (ID)
bracelet or necklace or carry your ID in your
- Always carry food or glucose tablets so
you’ll be ready to treat low blood glucose.
- If you’ll be exercising for more than an
hour, check your blood glucose at regular
intervals. You may need snacks before you
- Check to see how exercise affected your
blood glucose level.
Treating Low Blood Glucose
If your blood glucose is below 70, have
one of the following right
- 3 or 4 glucose tablets
- 1 serving of glucose gel—the amount
equal to 15 grams of carbohydrate
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of any fruit juice
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of a regular—not
- 1 cup (8 ounces) of milk
- 5 or 6 pieces of hard candy
- 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey
After 15 minutes, check your blood glucose
again. If it’s still too low, have another
serving. Repeat until your blood glucose is 70
or higher. If it will be an hour or more before
your next meal, have a snack as well.
What should I do before I start a
physical activity program?
Check with your doctor. Always
talk with your doctor before you start a new
physical activity program. Ask about your
medicines—prescription and over-the-counter— and
whether you should change the amount you take before
you exercise. If you have heart disease, kidney
disease, eye problems, or foot problems, ask which
types of physical activity are safe for you.
Decide exactly what you’ll do and set
- the type of physical activity you want to do
- the clothes and items you’ll need to get
- the days and times you’ll add activity
- the length of each session
- your plan for warming up, stretching, and
cooling down for each session
- a backup plan, such as where you’ll walk if
the weather is bad
- your measures of progress
Find an exercise buddy. Many
people find they are more likely to do something
active if a friend joins them. If you and a friend
plan to walk together, for example, you may be more
likely to do it.
Keep track of your physical activity.
Write down when you exercise and for how long in
your blood glucose record book. You’ll be able to
track your progress and see how physical activity
affects your blood glucose.
Decide how you’ll reward yourself.
Do something nice for yourself when you reach your
activity goals. For example, treat yourself to a
movie or buy a new plant for the garden.
What can I do to make sure I stay
One of the keys to staying on track is finding
some activities you like to do. If you keep finding
excuses not to exercise, think about why. Are your
goals realistic? Do you need a change in activity?
Would another time be more convenient? Keep trying
until you find a routine that works for you. Once
you make physical activity a habit, you’ll wonder
how you lived without it.