Safe Exercise

Make an appointment to see your doctor before starting an exercise program.  If you have certain diabetic complications, like nerve damage, eye disease, and kidney disease, your doctor may recommend very specific ways to exercise. 

Once you've gotten approval to start a fitness program, follow these tips to stay safe while you exercise:

  • Check your levels.  Test your blood sugar levels before, during, and after a workout. For most people with diabetes, the safest blood sugar range to start a workout is between 100 mg/dl and 250 mg/dl (5.6 mmol/l and 13.9 mmol/l).  If your blood sugar levels are below 100 mg/dl (5.6 mmol/l) before you exercise, have a snack that contains 15 grams of carbohydrate and test again in 15 minutes.
  • Keep a log.  Use an exercise log to track your exercise activities and your blood sugar levels before and after exercise.
  • Sweets for safety.  Keep a source of fast acting carbohydrates (e.g., glucose gel or tablets; Sweet Tarts; juice box) nearby for low blood sugar emergencies.
  • Check with your doctor about insulin before exercise.  When your muscles are working, the insulin you inject works faster, increasing your risk for a low blood sugar. So be sure to check with your doctor regarding when to take your insulin and/or medications before you exercise.
  • Stay hydrated.  Drinking water before, during, and after exercise is important for reducing your risk of dehydration associated with erratic blood sugars and heat stroke.
  • Identify yourself.  Always wear a medical identification tag or bracelet when you work out, so if you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia others will know how to help you.
  • Warm up and cool down.  The ADA recommends a warm-up of 5-10 min of aerobic activity (walking, cycling, etc.) at a low-intensity level and gentle stretching for an additional 5-10 minutes. The cool-down should also last 5-10 minutes until heart rate has returned to pre-exercise levels.
  • Dress appropriately.  Wear well-fitting shoes and socks and breathable and weather-appropriate clothing to prevent foot problems and heat stroke.  Consider a visit to your podiatrist before starting an exercise program.
  • Breathe normally.  When strength training, do not hold your breath, as it can affect your blood pressure and cause you to feel lightheaded.  See your doctor for medical clearance before starting resistance or strength training.
  • Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Start slow.  If you're new to exercise, or if you've been inactive for a long time, start off by going easy on yourself, increasing tempo, distance, and time as you gradually build your stamina over time.
  • Save your breath.  A slight shortness of breath is normal during cardio training, but laboring to catch your breath is not.  You should be able to carry on a conversation while you exercise.
  • Carry a phone.  If exercising outdoors, always have access to emergency medical service via a cell phone or other means of communication.

Reviewed by Susan Weiner, RD, MS, CDE, CDN. 04/13

Last Modified Date: March 05, 2014

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Carey Potash
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