We all know exercise is good for our health, but it can also have a big impact on our blood sugars, for better or for worse.
Different exercises have different effects on blood sugar levels — some drive it up, and others cause it to go plummeting down. Sometimes these effects are pretty predictable, but sometimes it’s the opposite.
Exercise may seem intimidating to navigate, but the health benefits are so massive that figuring out how to manage your blood sugars during workouts is well worth it. We have a full article on the subject — How Not to Let Your Diabetes Ruin Your Workout — but we also thought it would be worthwhile to hear the opinions of people that live and breathe diabetes every day.
That’s why we polled our community and forum members to learn about their favorite exercises for blood sugar management. Here’s what they had to say!
Walking was the most popular answer we received. It’s no wonder why: walking is a workout that doesn’t require special equipment or a gym membership, and can be enjoyed by people of all sorts of ages and fitness levels. And despite the lower intensity level, the health benefits are legitimate. A systematic review found that low-intensity exercises not only improve physical health (flexibility, balance, and strength) but also mental health, reducing symptoms of depression.
For most people, walking’s steady low intensity creates a mild but predictable drop in blood sugar. And for people with diabetes, even the lightest of exercises, such as household chores, can have a meaningful effect on your blood sugar management. The more time you spend on your feet, the better.
“For me, it’s brisk walking an hour a day. It does not cause any hypoglycemia and it improves my insulin sensitivity big time” – Ahmed A.
“Walking. It doesn’t make me go high or low and seems to help with insulin resistance” – Patience B.
“If I need my sugars to drop, I take a brisk walk, jump rope or swim. Anything that engages a lot of muscle groups with a steady elevated heart rate, but not too intense, seems to work for me.” – James. J
“Walking over 10,000 steps a day” -Aimee P.
“Walking an hour a day improves mood, flexibility, circulation and overall glucose management. Easy peasy.” – Barbara W.
“Honestly a walk a day keeps my blood sugar and my blood sugar in a great range.” – Molly S.
The Cardio Enthusiasts
Cardiovascular exercise is higher intensity than a mere walk. It’s also associated with an impressive number of health benefits, some of them especially important for people with diabetes, such as improved glucose control, better insulin sensitivity, and improved A1C.
For many people with diabetes, cardio results in blood sugar drops. This can have an immediate positive influence on your glucose management. Sometimes, however, these drops can be dramatic, and require planning – you should always have glucose tabs, candy, juice, or some other source of fast carbs to treat hypoglycemia.
“Running does me right! I go most days so the sugar control is figured out. Cross-training is good too though.” – Geoff C.
“Trail running. It helps my mental health and helps me control my blood sugars.” – Rita S.
“Cardio. I love off-course racing but I have to bolus a lot since it’s high intensity.” – Tara P.
“Circut training helps me most with insulin sensitivity but it’s different for everyone. Consistency is the biggy no matter what you do!” – Sarah V.
“Swimming and water exercises. It’s like I’m cured” – Heidi S.
“Endurance training and biking for me” – Mandi F.
Weightlifting, strength-training, HIIT, and other high-intensity exercises are definitely not just for bodybuilders. These exercises are known to reduce hyperglycemia, improve blood pressure and insulin resistance, and target abdominal fat. And it’s not just for body builders: Experts recommend strength-training exercises to patients of all ages and fitness levels.
Unlike cardio, which can sometimes lead to dangerous blood sugar lows, high-intensity exercise generally increases blood sugar for a short amount of time. If these increases are mild, they may be immaterial; if larger, they may be predictable enough to counteract with a bolus. In either case, they are not likely to leave you with that worrying hypoglycemia wooziness in the middle of a run.
“I love lifting weights and feel it has a huge impact on my blood sugar and overall mental health. With that said, I think the best exercise for people living with diabetes is anything you like enough to do consistently.” – Dawn D.
“I’ve been playing around with my training and the effect on my blood sugar levels for some time now. I find if I do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or I lift heavy, I find my blood sugar level will spike but come down naturally within an hour after training. I think it is due to the adrenaline. The one benefit is I am always very insulin sensitive the next day which makes it easier to control my blood sugar levels.” Theuns N.
“Bodyweight or lightweight training. The Tracy Anderson method is perfect for me and my blood sugars.” – Claire W.
“It’s CrossFit for me! I love the fact that it is a combination of strength training and HIIT. You also have a coach who can help you with form and technique. Also, it is a great community so the whole experience helps my mental health and overall wellbeing!” – Allison C.
The Kitchen Sink Approach
And then there are the many members of our diabetes community that prefer to combine different types of exercise. It’s a great approach, offering enjoyable variety and comprehensive health benefits. And it can feel pretty good to have more than one type of exercise in your toolbox to deal with blood sugar surprises.
“I walk one hour and a half Monday through Friday. I do burpees, pushups, squat jumps, squats, jumping jacks with tuck jumps, Hindu pushups with mountain climbers, planks, bicycle, and sit-ups. It works with my blood sugars really well and my A1c is between a 5.6-6.0.” – Michael R.
“Ab crunches and the treadmill for an hour a day.” – Ellie P.
“All of it. Strength is awesome. Running is awesome. Biking is also awesome. Meditation and yoga are amazing for mental health while dealing with this disease.”
“Hiking. It is a long, relaxing, nonstressful activity. Also, snowboarding is insane, I can eat food without insulin all day!” – Lauren S.
“Anything that requires movement. Just move for an hour or so extra each day. Weights too. It all helps improve insulin sensitivity. Lower body weight helps as well. These are the things we can control.” – Marie G.“
Read more about A1c, diabetes burnout, diabetes management, exercise, insulin, Intensive management, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).