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Get help with exercise when you have diabetes

Exercise is especially important for people with diabetes. Aerobic exercise and strength training improve blood sugar control by increasing the amount of sugar burned by the muscles, and by helping with weight loss. Aerobic exercise may further reduce the risk of two diabetic complications: coronary disease, by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and controlling weight; and poor circulation in the legs, by increasing blood flow.

While the best diabetes exercise is the kind you enjoy and do regularly, there are several choices that are especially good for people with diabetes, and several precautions that are particularly important for them, too.

Getting started

Try these steps when starting a diabetes exercise program.

Take baby steps. “How do you get started from virtually zero?” asks James Hill, Ph.D., a co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry and director of the government-funded Center for Human Nutrition. “The answer is, you start slowly.” Choose the stairs over the escalator. Park the car in the farthest spot in the lot. Take your dog for a walk. “All the little stuff begins to add up,” he says.

Bring a buddy. It can be your dog or a pal. “It’s always fun to have a friend, as long as they’re kind of at the same level,” says Richard Lampman, Ph.D., an adjunct associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan. And it passes the time to talk while you walk.

Plan ahead. “The day before, plan when you’re going to work out, where you’re going to go, what equipment you need,” Lampman says. And if you have one, don’t forget to wear your medical identification bracelet or necklace, a practice that’s recommended by the American Diabetes Association.

Talk to people who exercise. Find out where they like to work out. “People who are successful in using peer support and family support are more likely to be successful,” says Steven Blair, P.E.D., a professor in the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina.

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