The Effect of Exercise on Diabetes

January 15,2020 |

Exercising is one of the best ways to keep your body healthy, especially if you have diabetes. When done regularly, exercise will help you better control and manage your diabetes, which reduces your chances of developing long-term complications. This is because when you exercise, your body consumes more oxygen and your muscles use glycogen, triglycerides, and free fatty acids for energy.1For your body to continue functioning properly during heightened bouts of exercise, your blood sugar levels become stable and start to naturally decrease.

After exercising, your blood sugar levels drop and you reap the benefits for hours. At the very basic level, exercising reduces the amount of insulin your body needs to process carbohydrates.3 In this article, we’ll discuss the effect that exercise has on both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

How Does Exercise Affect Insulin?

When you start exercising, your insulin sensitivity is increased.2 This allows your muscles to use any readily available insulin to take up glucose during and after exercising.2 The lasting effect that this has on your insulin levels and blood sugar will depend primarily on the intensity of your activity along with how long you’re active. In some cases, exercising can help lower your blood sugar for up to 24 hours or more after a workout.2 This is why daily exercise is so highly recommended for people with diabetes. However, everyone is different. Use your blood glucose meter to test your blood sugar before and after exercise to help you understand how it affects you. Knowing your body is critical in managing your blood glucose levels over time. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or before starting a new exercise program. 


Another reason you need to check your blood glucose levels prior to exercising is to ensure that you don’t go into hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is when your blood sugar becomes dangerously low. It’s likely to occur in people that take insulin or an insulin secretagogue, people who skip meals, people who exercise for long periods of time, and people who exercise too strenuously.2

If your blood sugar is low (below 100mg/dL), avoid exercising until it’s at a more stable level. If you feel hypoglycemic, check your blood sugar and have 15-20 grams of carbohydrates if your reading is 100mg/dL or lower.2 Check your blood sugar again after 15 minutes. If it’s still low, have another 15 grams of carbohydrates and wait.2 Repeat this every 15 minutes until your blood sugar reaches at least 100mg/dL.2 Talk to your doctor if you experience hypoglycemia to find a treatment plan that works for you.

Exercise and Diabetes

If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas produces little to no insulin, making blood glucose management more difficult.5 If you have type 2 diabetes, it means that there is an excess amount of glucose in your blood.4 This happens either because your body doesn’t produce enough insulin to process the glucose, or because your body is more resistant to insulin.4 Regardless, exercising with diabetes will help your body lower the overall amount of glucose in your blood without added insulin.4 This is because your muscles use glucose directly during exercise. Exercise also makes your insulin more effective so your cells are more readily available to use glucose.4

If you have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, exercise will help you avoid long-term complications. Most importantly, exercising helps reduce the possibility of developing heart problems.4 Always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen or if you have any questions about what your body can and can’t handle.

Benefits of Exercise and Physical Activity

In addition to the impact exercise has on your ability to manage blood glucose levels, there are a number of traditional health benefits. Some of which include:4

  • Low blood pressure

  • Increased level of good cholesterol

  • Weight control

  • More lean muscles

  • Increased strength

  • Stronger bones

  • More energy

  • Better sleep

  • Stress management

  • Improved mood

Fitness Recommendations for People with Diabetes

If you’re not currently exercising regularly, make sure that you talk to your doctor before starting any new regimens. Doing so will help ensure that you pick the best exercise plans for your health. Expect to get a full physical if you’re an adult and talk to your doctor about any diabetes-related complications you’ve experienced over your life. This will help you find something that works for you, is safe, and will help your body build up strength.  

Aerobic Activity

As a whole, aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days of the week.4 Start small and add a few minutes each day until you can continually exercise for 30 minutes. Once you hit 30 minutes, slowly start to increase your time to help your body adapt and better manage your diabetes. Some great aerobic exercises include walking, running, swimming, playing tennis, biking, and hiking. You should also start making small changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator to help reduce your overall sedentary behavior. If you need some motivation, check out the group classes at your nearest fitness center or studio.

Strength Training

After you’ve successfully built up your aerobic activity, add in some strength training. Strength training is beneficial to everyone and helps strengthen your muscles, joints, and even bones.4 Burning fat and building muscles is a great way to gain better control of your blood glucose levels if you have type 2 diabetes, as muscles use more glucose than fat.4 Start by doing exercises using your body weight such as squats, planks, push ups, and sit ups. From there, you can move on to weights. If you’re unfamiliar with weightlifting, hire a trainer to show you what to do. Proper form is essential to avoiding injury and getting the most out of your exercises. Aim for about 20-30 minutes of strength training two to three times a week.4

Both before and after aerobic exercises and strength training, it’s important to take the time to stretch. Doing so beforehand will help prime your muscles and joints to work effectively and doing so after helps reduces soreness and relax your muscles.4 Stretching is one of the best ways to prevent excess strain or injury during your workout.

Stepping Back from the Gym

Some people love going to the gym, others absolutely hate it. Regardless of your situation, it is possible to live an active lifestyle—you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on gym memberships to stay fit. There are plenty of free, online resources that you can use in the comfort of your own home. Check out one of the many free online yoga classes or workout videos. If you are an Amazon Prime member, there are a number of exclusive fitness videos at varying levels of intensity and time.  

To get in your aerobic exercise, one of the best places to start is to simply take a walk. In addition to the aerobic benefits of walking, being outside will boost your sense of self-esteem, give you a more positive outlook, and provide a higher sense of mental clarity.

Remember, getting started is the hardest part. To increase your fitness levels, you’re going to need to put in the work. To improve the chances that you stick with your new fitness program, start small and work up to your goals. Making small, healthy changes in your daily activity will lead to bigger changes and will increase the chances that your new habits will stay.


Managing your diabetes can take a lot of work, but if you live a healthy and active lifestyle, things will be easier. Pair your aerobic exercises with strength training routines and aim to eat whole, nutritious meals for the best results. If you have any questions or plan to make major changes to your current habits, always talk to your doctor before doing so. Always continue to regularly monitor your blood glucose levels before and after exercise and stop if you start to feel hypoglycemic. If you need any blood glucose meters or continuous glucose monitoring devices, Byram Healthcare has you covered. We’re proud to provide you with the latest technology in diabetes management, including continuous glucose monitoring. We’ll work with your insurance provider and doctor to ensure you’re supported from start to finish, maximizing your coverage while minimizing out-of-pocket expenses. For more information and added support on diabetes management, sign up for Byram Healthcare’s Caring Touch At Home™ Program. We focus on providing exceptional customer service and top-of-the-line brand name products while lowering your overhead costs. The Caring Touch At Home™ Program combines convenience, affordability, and choice to deliver extensive service and support to everyone living with diabetes. 

For added support, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Byram’s Diabetes Center of Excellence—a one source, total solution for diabetes care. Our Center of Excellence combines high quality products with clinical and educational research to help you better manage your condition, support all of your needs, and live a long, healthy life. Browse our products, find resources, and learn more about our Caring Touch At Home™ Program today.