How to Incorporate Exercise Into Your Lifestyle

If you are living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes you will be asked, as part of your over-all treatment plan, to implement a daily exercise regimen. In fact, living as a diabetic or a pre-diabetic means that you will have to get up, get active, and learn to enjoy exercise if you want to do everything possible to maintain good health and manage your diabetes.

The number of diabetics in America continues to rise by epidemic proportions – the increases in numbers is in conjunction with parallels in rising rates of obesity. An obese person is 3 to 7 times more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.[1] And, weight gain in adulthood is seen to be correlated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.[2]

How can you make exercise and activity a part of your normal life? How can you ensure that exercise aids your overall diabetes treatment plan and helps you manage your weight?

You Are Never Too Busy

The number one claim for diabetics who choose to skip exercise is that they are too busy. People say they have hectic lives. They have jobs. They have children. They have friends they have to meet for dinner and drinks. But is this hectic lifestyle going to benefit you in any way if you develop severe problems due to diabetes and become housebound, or worse?

Even if you think your life is too hectic to exercise, you can most likely fit an exercise program into your schedule with little problem.  And, when we say ‘little problem’ we mean it: you can have fun exercising, you meet new people, you release feel-good hormones and reduce stress, you increase your energy, and you decrease blood sugar levels while having a good time.

Getting Started

Before beginning an exercise program, you need to see your doctor. If you are under care for your diabetes, your doctor has most likely already recommended an exercise program.

If you have not exercised in a long time, or never exercised before, you will want to start slow and build up the time and the intensity of your exercises. You can start with a 5 to 10 minute moderate work out three to four times a week. Add a little each day to increase your endurance. The goal is to work up to exercising 150 minutes every week.[3]

If you are just beginning your exercise program start making smart exercise decisions:

  • Walk, don’t take the elevator
  • Park farther away from the door at the grocery store or mall
  • Cycle or walk to work
  • Garden or rake leaves
  • Clean your house with a little extra oomph!
  • Wash your vehicle
  • Find and exercise buddy
  • Walk instead of taking a coffee break

What Exercises Are Best for You?

As you begin to add exercise to your everyday life, there are four types of activities that will fit in well with daily living:[4]

  • Exercises added to your daily schedule
  • Cardio and aerobic exercises
  • Strength training
  • Stretching

Aerobic exercises. Aerobic exercises are sometimes called cardio. These types of exercises increase your heart rate. If you look back at the list of suggested activities for starting exercisers you will discover that many of these activities are cardio exercises. For example, walking up stairs instead of taking an elevator will increase your heart rate.

Cardio exercises are some of the easiest to add to your daily schedule. They can quickly become a habit. In fact, you can do cardio exercises up to five times a week for thirty minutes a day. You can even split up the exercises into smaller time increments. If you have two 15 minute coffee breaks, one before lunch and one after lunch, you can get in two cardio workouts every day during the time you would normally be adding extra calories to your system.

Strength training. Strength training is more difficult to fit into your schedule if you are new to exercising. Strength training involves weights, elastic bands, and the type of weight machines you might find at a gym.

It is recommended that you do strength training exercises three times a week. These exercises will help you build muscle mass and eventually burn more calories.[5] When you put the two together, cardio and strength training, one will complement the other and help with your overall exercise program.

Easy Options for Making Exercise a Part of Your Lifestyle

Are you a type 1? Are you a type 2? Are you in danger of developing diabetes? We have discussed the importance of making exercise a part of your everyday life, but sometimes it is just easier to put it off until tomorrow. Keep in mind, your goal is to make exercise fun. The best type of exercise is one you do.

When you are diagnosed with diabetes you are engulfed with dos and don’ts and information. Take exercise as a time that you can have fun while make major health changes in your life.

You may have to start slowly. However, you will soon be up and running and exercise will become an integral part of your life. As you move beyond the beginning stages you can find exercises that can you do that are fun.

  • Join a gym
  • Find a pool to swim (particularly helpful for those people with knee or back pain)
  • Become a part of a team
  • Try a new sport
  • Develop short term and long term goals
  • Get out and see the world with an active state of mind

Did you know that as a diabetic you can book walking tours throughout Europe, climb mountains throughout America, and scuba dive in some of the most beautiful locations on the planet? Diabetes that is well managed does not limit your ability to enjoy life, and exercise can be enjoyable.

Make it Fun, Make it Safe

When you begin to exercise, and when you really get into your program and make it a part of your lifestyle it might be easy to forget that no matter how far you have come you have physical limitations. Continue to keep regularly scheduled appointments with your health team and keep them informed of your exercise plans and goals.

Always keep a balance. You will want to balance the amount of exercise you do with the calories you eat and your glucose levels. Remember to eat healthy and balanced meals every day.

As you begin your exercise program you will want to become even more avid about monitoring your blood sugar levels. Glucose levels should be monitored before, during, and after exercising.[6] You can make adjustments based on the readings.

Keep snacks handy at all times. Snacks that are carb rich such as a granola bar or glucose pills can help you recharge if your energy levels sag from working out. Plus, keep up the water intake.

When you learn how to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle you will get a real handle on controlling your diabetes. Meet with your doctor and come up with an individual plan that works with your lifestyle and diabetic needs.


[1]  Lkein, S. (2004). Weight Management Through Lifestyle Modification for the Prevention and Management of type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Caare , 2067-2073.

[2]  Ibid

[3]  What I Need to Know About Physical Activity and Diabetes. (n.d.). Retrieved from Natioanl Diabetes Informations Clearinghouse:

[4] Ibid

[5]  What I Need to Know About Physical Activity and Diabetes. (n.d.). Retrieved from Natioanl Diabetes Informations Clearinghouse:

[6]  Exercise Effects on Diabetes. (n.d.). Retrieved from University of MAryland Medical Center:

This article was originally published July 12, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/10/2015.