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Exercise Helps People With Diabetes


According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, approximately 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes and 7 million Americans have undiagnosed diabetes. Data show that more than 11 percent of Americans aged 20 years or older have diabetes, and almost 27 percent of Americans aged 65 years or older have diabetes.1 The CDC predicts that by 2050, a staggering 1 in 3 Americans will have the disease.

Diabetes affects people of all ages and backgrounds.
Read about Tom Hanks's diabetes diagnosis.

To help raise awareness about diabetes prevention and management, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has developed guidelines that emphasize the importance of regular physical activity.2

ADA guidelines recommend preventing and better managing diabetes by:

  • Engaging in moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise at least 150 minutes per week
  • Engaging in moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise at least 3 days per week
  • Allowing no more than 2 rest days between aerobic activity
  • Engaging in strength (resistance) training

Data from the American College of Sports Medicine suggest that regular aerobic exercise can help your body use insulin more effectively, better balance the amount of glucose you produce, and more effectively use carbohydrates to fuel your muscles. When combined with strength (resistance) training, aerobic exercise can help lower fasting blood glucose levels for up to 24 hours in people with impaired fasting glucose, improve insulin action, and control blood glucose levels. In addition, the combination of aerobic exercise and resistance exercise can help increase muscle mass, which is important in helping maintain a healthy weight.3

ADA guidelines emphasize
that many people with diabetes
can exercise safely.2

"If you have diabetes," says Summit Medical Group endocrinologist Robert L. Rosenbaum, MD, FACP, FACE, "you should see your doctor before beginning or intensifying an exercise program. If you have diabetes and another or other health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), nephropathy, autonomic or peripheral neuropathy, retinopathy, peripheral vascular disease, osteoporosis, or arthritis, it's especially important for you to talk with your doctor before starting or intensifying an exercise program. Your doctor might recommend that you have a stress test to ensure that you can exercise safely."

People with diabetes and other health complications should follow these exercise recommendations:

  • If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, nephropathy, or retinopathy, you should avoid strenuous activities that involve heavy lifting, isometric exercises,* and exposure to extremely hot or cold weather. Be sure to talk with your doctor first to find out if resistance training is appropriate for you. In most cases, people with heart disease and high blood pressure can engage in light weight training. Ask if your gym employs a personal trainer with expertise in diabetes. Together with your doctor, he or she can guide you to a resistance and an aerobic exercise program that is safe and effective. Many people with heart disease and high blood pressure can safely engage in regular, moderate stretching, walking, cycling, swimming, and light, dynamic lifting with many repetitions. If you have retinopathy, you should avoid exercises that involve bending over and having your head lower than your heart, which puts pressure on your eyes
  • If you have peripheral neuropathy or peripheral vascular disease, you should avoid strenuous, high-impact, weight-bearing, endurance exercise such as long-distance walking, running, jumping or hopping, and exposure to excessively hot or cold weather. It's especially important to avoid exercise that worsens sores and ulcers. In many cases, people with peripheral neuropathy and periperal vascular disease can engage in light-to-moderate low-impact exercise such as stretching, cycling, walking, swimming, and chair exercises. If you have peripheral neuropathy and exercise regularly, be sure to check your legs and feet every day for sores and ulcers and always wear properly fitted shoes
  • If you have autonomic neuropathy, you should avoid exercises that require you to move quickly or in which you could become dehydrated. In many cases, people with autonomic neuropathy can engage in light-to-moderate aerobic exercise and resistance training. With your doctor's approval and as you get fit, you can increase the length of time you exercise
  • If you have osteoporosis or arthritis, you should avoid high-impact exercise that puts excess pressure on your bones and joints. In many cases, people with osteoporosis and arthritis can engage in moderate exercise such as walking, swimming, pool-based aerobic exercise, yoga, tai chi, light resistance training, and stretching

If you have diabetes, get and stay active
with exercise you enjoy
and are likely to continue.


To schedule an appointment,
call Summit Medical Group Endocrinology 
at 908-277-8667.


* Isometric exercise is any muscle-building exercise that uses the body (body weight) against resistance (pressing against a wall, door, free weight(s), or weight machine) to strengthen and tone muscles. Squats, plank bridges, and push ups are isometric exercises. Isometric exercises raise blood pressure and put pressure on your heart and cardiovascular system and eyes. For these reasons, isometric exercises are usually not recommended for people with heart disease, high blood pressure, vascular disease, and certain eye diseases such as retinopathy and glaucoma.



1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet. www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/estimates11.htm. Accessed November 1, 2013.
2. American Diabetes Association. Exercise can help tame type 2 diabetes, say new guidelines. ACSM, American Diabetes Association guidelines make strong case for physical activity. www.diabetes.org/for-media/2010/exercise-can-help-tame-type-2.html. Accessed November 1, 2013.
3. American College of Sports Medicine. Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Exercise and type 2 diabetes: American College of Sports Medicine and American Diabetes Association Joint Position Statement. 2010. 42;12:2282-2303.