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Fitness Articles  ›  Special Concerns

Exercising with Type 2 Diabetes

Manage Glucose, Lose Weight, and Reduce Complications

-- By Dean Anderson, Fitness & Behavior Expert
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The Risks of Exercise and How to Avoid Them

Many people with diabetes have special needs that should be addressed  when planning an exercise program. Here are four of the most common problems that will affect your exercise plan:

1. Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar): Exercise can cause your blood glucose levels to drop too much, especially if you take insulin or some other glucose-lowering medications. Symptoms of hypoglycemia, or "low blood sugar," include feeling shaky, lightheaded, weak, confused, anxious, fatigued, irritable, or hungry; headache; breaking out into a clammy sweat; or even fainting.

Hypoglycemia can happen during exercise, right after exercise, or even up to 24 hours after you finish exercising. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can be mild and gradual; but it is more common for symptoms to occur quickly with diabetes-related hypoglycemia. It is also important to note, that in rare cases, individuals may not experience any symptoms at all. By paying close attention to how you’re feeling, and by knowing how to treat low blood sugar symptoms correctly, you can prevent problems before they put you at risk of injury. To prevent exercise-related hypoglycemia:
  • If you take insulin, do not inject insulin near the primary muscles that will be used during exercise (typically the thighs or back of the arms), because it will be absorbed too quickly.
  • Check your blood glucose level before you exercise. SparkPeople's Carbohydrate Adjustments for Exercising Diabetics Chart will tell you what adjustments to make before exercise, based on your glucose reading.
  • Do not skip planned meals prior to exercise, or go too long without eating.
  • Carry an easy-to-consume glucose source (such as juice, hard candy, or glucose tablets) when you exercise
  • Drink plenty of water before and during exercise—dehydration can affect glucose levels.
2. Poor Blood Sugar Control: In some cases, exercise can also cause blood sugar levels to rise (known as hyperglycemia). If you take insulin, or if your glucose levels aren’t well-controlled, you must discuss your exercise plan with your doctor before starting. To prevent exercise-related blood sugar problems:
  • Do NOT exercise if your blood glucose is above 300 mg/dL, or your fasting blood glucose is above 250 mg/dL and you have ketones in your urine.
  • Check your glucose level before and after exercise, to see how your exercise has affected it. Share this information with your doctor (especially if you take any oral medications for diabetes or insulin) to help you determine the best times of day for you to exercise, and how to adjust the timing or amount of your dosage before exercising.
3. Diabetic Retinopathy: If you have this condition (damaged blood vessels in the retina of the eye), exercise could damage your eyesight. Strenuous activities could lead to bleeding or retinal detachment, so you may need to avoid certain activities, such as weight lifting or jogging. Ask your doctor to recommend appropriate exercise activities for you.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • DREAMBELLY
    great article. I learned a lot. - 5/10/2014 1:44:20 AM
  • My GP told me I should be power walking every single day for at least an hour each time. Hmm!

    Thanks for this article - very informative.
    - 9/26/2013 9:13:50 PM
  • SKINNY2B4ME
    My diabetic husband, 67, often works in the yard in the heat for hours at a time, not even stopping to eat or drink. It worries me sick, since I am at work and have no control over this craziness! I try to allow him to be responsible for his own diabetes control, but one of these days he will be in trouble and no one will be around to help. Diabetics,please think of your loved ones and seriously control your health. Life IS too short for carelessness! - 7/30/2013 5:43:11 PM
  • Love the article. - 7/25/2013 12:54:03 PM
  • good article! - 3/27/2013 5:54:36 PM
  • Thank you, finally a clear explanation from someone rather than what I have always read and heard from media and doctors. Just telling someone to exercise is not enough; it really helps to give explanations. - 3/27/2013 8:15:42 AM
  • LEMONLIME59
    Best and easiest thing anyone can do with Type 2 is.....walk.
    Unplug, disconnect, open the door and...
    Get out.
    Simple, sensible, and practical.
    - 2/27/2013 1:11:53 PM
  • Good info. I knew alot of this but I learn some. I am checking our a gym ,but I am going to ask questions and talk to my doctor.reply to Alaskan, check with your insurance sometimes you don't nead referals. Some health departments offers classes. - 9/7/2012 9:09:08 PM
  • I originally read this article in 7/10, and came across it again. Glad to reread it--with diabetes we all benefit from reacquainting ourselves with what seems to be simple information--whic
    h I often ignore. Thanks for keep this in the cycle to 'must reads.' - 8/8/2012 2:50:17 PM
  • So, what is an example of a 'fast acting carbohydrate snack" ? - 7/26/2012 9:52:36 AM
  • DEB_LEA
    Good review of important information. Thanks! - 5/3/2012 4:41:46 PM
  • Very informative article, and a good reminder to keep being physically active! My doctor took me off all diabetes meds in the last year. It still takes discipline to get out there and take that walk though. It's so easy to slip back into being inactive. I'm glad Spring is just around the corner so I can get back to hiking! - 3/18/2011 7:28:34 AM
  • Great article. It isn't necessary to have diabetes for you to have damage to your body. Studies show now that PRE-diabetes is of a real concern for damage. That is why weight loss, exercise and proper diet is so important. - 6/11/2008 2:36:10 AM
  • Your Dr. does not need to refer you. YOu can call any hospital and they will let you know when/where their diabetes educator will be holding a class. They are FREE and full of great info for anyone with diabetes in the family, not just the person being diagnosed. - 5/21/2008 10:03:25 AM
  • I refer to this page very often and find out more from Spark People than I do sometimes from my own Primary Doctor. All he says is your sugars look good. I need to find out how I can get him to refer me to a diabetes doctor. I need to be educated more so my sons will know what to look for if something should happen to me. (if I'm passed out of unable to talk).. could someone help to get my doctor to refer to one? TIA Always ERNA - 4/28/2008 9:26:27 PM
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