Diabetes and Physical Activity

Diabetes and Physical Activity

Physical activity is of great benefits for all people and especially those with diabetes. Getting started may not be easy but is possible. You may need to see your health care team and have a medical check before increasing your level of physical activity. Moderate exercise done most days of the week is best. Aerobic exercise that uses up oxygen is best for improving your health. You don’t have to do a huge amount of exercise to improve your health. The equivalent of 20-30 minutes’ walk daily is always a good start.

Regular physical activity does not mean exercising to become an Olympic athlete! The best type of physical activity is something of the equivalent effort of walking briskly for 30 minutes on most days of the week. This does not have to be in one 30-minute block. Shorter durations of 5- or 10-minute blocks that all add up to at least 30 minutes daily work just as well.

Getting started

Increasing your level of physical activity all starts with taking that right decision each day. Taking that first step can be difficult. Maybe you have never been active. Maybe you used to be but over the years you have stopped. We all have our reasons for being inactive. We may think we are:

  • Too old
  • Too overweight
  • Too weak
  • Too sick
  • Too busy
  • Too tired
  • Too discouraged

It is never too late to start increasing your level of physical activity. With few exceptions, even if you are disabled or injured you can still improve your level of fitness. Once you get going, you will be amazed how quickly those excuses fade away!


The first step – see your health care team

If you have any complications of diabetes, a history of heart disease, or diabetes for more than 10 years, you should get a thorough medical check before increasing your level of physical activity.

Medical check should include your:

  • Blood pressure
  • Blood lipid levels (cholesterol)
  • HBA1c (a blood test that measures your average blood glucose levels)
  • Health of your heart and circulatory system
  • Eyes
  • Feet

The key to getting the benefits of physical activity is sustainability over a period until it becomes part of your day-to-day routine. You will gain far more health benefits if you have regular moderate amounts of exercise every day than if you exercise for longer on only one or two days of the week.

Physical activity (or exercise) can help you:

  • Feel better (it improves mood)
  • Look better (which improves mood and self-esteem)
  • Sleep better
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Lower your blood glucose levels
  • Improve your lipid levels (cholesterol)
  • Manage your weight
  • Improve your cardiovascular fitness (and reduce heart and blood vessel disease)
  • Reduce stress levels

What type of physical activity?

The sort of activity that is most beneficial is what is called ‘aerobic’ activity. This means activity that uses oxygen. You know if you are aerobically active because you will have to breathe harder than when you are resting. However, your breathing should still be comfortable. You may need to discuss with your doctor or diabetes educator what type of physical activity is best for you.

Examples of aerobic activity are:

  • Walking
  • Mowing the lawns
  • Doing the vacuum cleaning
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Playing ball games
  • Aerobics or dance classes
  • Washing the car


  • Getting physically stronger helps to alleviate pain and aches, makes activities of daily living more comfortable and gives you a sense of empowerment and confidence.
  • Regular physical activity increases blood flow, and oxygen to the brain. It also boosts mood improves sleep, digestion and absorption of nutrients from foods, and makes you feel more energized throughout the day.
  • Regular physical activity increases your level of endorphins hormones, which are natural mood lifters. Sticking to a fitness routine helps you feel accomplished and self-proud.
  • Regular physical activity can prevent heart disease and stroke by strengthening heart muscles, lowering blood pressure, raising HDL levels (good cholesterol), lowering LDL levels (bad cholesterol, improving blood flow, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.