On this page

Diabetes and exercise

Group of people doing yoga
On this page

Why is exercise so important for diabetics?

Exercise is really important both type 1 and 2 diabetics. Exercising regularly improves sensitivity to the body’s own insulin and the body becomes better at transporting glucose. This happens because exercise stimulates the body’s muscles.

Exercise reduces the level of fat in the body and can improve blood glucose control. Less glucose in the blood, because it’s now stored in the body’s muscle, means the blood flows better and some of the blood vessel complications associated with diabetes, may be avoided.

Easy exercises you can do at home

We all know finding time to get to the gym can be tough, between balancing work life with important family time. That’s why we asked personal trainer and fitness blogger Carly Rowena easy ways you can exercise at home. You could even fit them in during the adverts of your favourite soap, or while you're waiting for the kettle to boil.

Beginners guide to HIIT

You may have heard of HIIT in the recent years, it’s become a more common form of exercise. But what exactly is it? HIIT is a high-intensity interval training, which involves quick bursts of exercise followed by short breaks or recovery periods. Does this sound like something you would be interested in?

Here’s a beginners circuit to get you started from personal trainer and fitness blogger Carly Rowena.

This circuit will last about 5 minutes, with a 20 second rest period. Though it’s customisable, so you can either lengthen or shorten your rest depending on what you feel like you can manage on that day. All you need is a mat and a timer.

Here’s your beginner HIIT Circuit:

Set your timer to 5 minutes

1. 40 seconds of toe touches – stand at the back of your mat and flick your leg out to the opposite arm. You can take this slowly, or if you want to push yourself, you can do it faster. Try to bring your arms up as high as you can and get that movement. If you’re feeling inflexible, then you can do a bit of a bend, or just bring your toes up to wherever you can.

2. 20 second rest.
3. 40 seconds of press-ups – stand at the back of the mat and use your hands to walk yourself as far out as you can. If you can do press-ups, this is where you would do a full one. If you can’t, you can do it on your knees. If you would prefer, you can simply walk yourself out and back up. Pick your preferred method, but make sure you’re walking yourself down and back up after each one.
4. 20 second rest.
5. 40 seconds of jump lunges – For this one, it’s best to step off the mat as it can be a slippery. Walk forwards into a lunge, and then come back. If you want to make it a little harder, you can add a jump. Step forward into a lunge, then jump nice and high and land softly in a lunge for the other leg.
6. 20 second rest.
7. 40 seconds of elbow to knee cross touch – Lay nice and flat, and put your hands behind your head, bring your knees up to your chest, then touch your elbow to the opposite knee, and swap. Do whatever speed you feel comfortable doing. If your back is uncomfortable, put your hands under your bum and bring your knees up to your chest one at a time.
8. 20 second rest
9. 40 seconds of plank touch – Get into a plank position on your hands, rather than elbows. If this is difficult spread your legs wider to make it easier. Then while you’re in the position lightly tap your opposite shoulder while holding your hips still. If this is really uncomfortable, you can do it on your knees but make sure you’re not bent at the hips.
You can double this, or even do this for 15 minutes if you want to.

Other easy exercises to try

Try to find something you enjoy as you’re more likely to stick with it. You could start with a short daily walk and gradually increase the distance or jog some of the way. Or maybe get off the bus a couple of stops earlier and walk the rest of the way at a brisk pace. Consider joining a gym, seek out your local swimming pool, or check out local sports teams. Exercising with friends old or new make it sociable and more fun, while you can also support and motivate each other. It’s important to check that your condition allows you to exercise, so see your GP beforehand.

An alternative approach to aerobic exercise is HIIT - low-volume high intensity interval training, which involves short bursts of intense activity interspersed with longer periods of recovery at low to moderate intensity. For HIIT it’s best to be clinically stable, and have been participating in regular moderate-intensity exercise.

If HIIT isn’t for you, why not try flexibility and balance training like yoga and tai chi 2–3 times per week? This can increase flexibility, muscular strength, and balance.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to increase your total daily physical activity which can include housework, walking the dog, and gardening. This kind of unstructured activity reduces total daily sitting time and helps you exercise, if you are unable to take part in more structured exercise.

Things to remember during exercise

Activity may affect your blood sugar levels both during and after exercise. Regular checking will help you to understand how it affects your blood sugar levels, so test your levels before, during and after any physical activity. It’s best to talk to your GP before you take up a regular exercise programme.

To avoid hypos, if your blood sugar levels are below 7mmol/l before you exercise, it’s best to have some extra carbohydrate. If you are with friends, make sure they know how to recognise and treat a hypo, and if you are exercising alone, let someone know where you are. If you’re trying to lose weight, talk to your GP about what’s the best way for you.

Be careful when your blood sugar levels are above 13mmol/l as activity can raise it higher. If this happens, it’s probably because you don’t have enough insulin. Talk to your GP about what you can do.

Is it best to eat before or after exercise?

In order to maintain your blood sugar levels, it’s best to plan what to eat before, during and after. You also need to listen to your body as everyone is different but what works for some, may not work for you.

How to fit exercises around your day

When you wake up

Exercising in your bed is great not only because its comfortable, but because it can also provide extra support. Try to add some leg raises before you start the day.

10 to 15 leg raises – lay down flat with your hands behind your head. Raise your legs up so your feet are pointed at the ceiling, then bring them down nice and slowly.

If you find them tricky, you can make them easier to begin with. You can put your hands behind your back and do them a little slower or you can pull your knees up to your chest and push them out instead.

Just before you brush your teeth

Now it’s time to do some squats. Squats are great for your glutes, legs, lower back and core.

15 to 30 squats – have your feet nice and flat on the floor, hip width apart (if you struggle with mobility, you can go one step wider). Put your arms out in front of you and squat down low while making sure you squeeze your knees out.

If you want, you can roll a towel and put it on the floor, then use it to support your arches and place your feet in your usual squat position. This can allow you to squat lower.

3When you get home from work, or while you’re watching the TV

While you’re in the living room, you can use your sofa or a chair to get some more exercise in before you finish the day.

15-40 tricep dips – Sit on your sofa, or chair with your hands besides you. Shift yourself forwards, with your feet hip width apart. Bring your glutes up and down purely using your triceps. These are the smallest muscles, and don’t get worked very often, this is going to start to ache so do as many as you can, 15-30 is perfect.

4After the food shop

15-30 bicep curls – You may not want to do exercise after you’ve been out and about. But this is the perfect time to squeeze some in. Hold your full shopping bags (or water bottles), slowly bring your arms up to almost touch your shoulder. Then, with resistance, bring them down very slowly. This is going to work your bicep muscles.

If you find one arm feels stronger than the other you can swap and do one arm at a time.

Free exercises

Exercise doesn’t have to be expensive. Consider some of these ideas that will keep you active, without breaking the bank.

  1. Cycling is great exercise and if you live close enough to work, why not make your commute your exercise?
  2.  Most of us haven’t skipped since we were a child, but this is a great workout and you could even borrow your kids’ skipping ropes!
  3. .Many charities host park runs that bring people together as well as encourage donations and awareness to great causes
  4. Playing football at the park is not only a good exercise, but it’s also a fun activity to keep everyone entertained
  5. There are a whole host of workout videos available online with exercise routines you can do in the comfort of your own home
  6. Even if you don’t have a dog of your own, you could take a neighbour’s canine companion for a walk
  7. Try outdoor exercise equipment. Many parks and public spaces are now adding gym equipment that can be used for free.
  8. Downloading fitness apps guide you through a number of different exercise plans and help you track your progress. Why not try My Fitness Pal, One You Couch to 5k or Nike Training Club?
  9. Don’t underestimate the energy and calories you could burn just by tending to your garden
  10. Use weights from around the home such as soup tins or bags of flour work to pump your muscles
  11. You could even start a sports group by gathering a group of friends to play any sport you enjoy, such as netball or football.
  12. Lots of the best exercises, such as triceps dips, can be done at home by simply using a sofa or chair. Line yourself up with an appropriate piece of furniture and lower your body weight using only your arms for an effective and free workout.
  13. Why not join a walking group and meet like-minded people who can help you stay motivated to get out and about?
  14. Simply going up and down your stairs is a form of exercise that helps burning calories during your day
  15. Just like walking groups, there are also a variety of running clubs that you can join to connect with people who have similar goals to you

Fitness apps you could try

NHS Couch to 5k

Couch to 5K is a running plan for absolute beginners. It was developed by a new runner, Josh Clark, who wanted to help his fifty something mum get off the couch and start running too.

The plan involves 3 runs a week, with a day of rest in between, and a different schedule for each of the 9 weeks. It can help you get started with exercise as it helps you build up your fitness and stamina gradually. Week 1 starts with running for one minute at a time, making it achievable from the very beginning. Look at your app store to download the app and keep a track of your progress.

One You Active 10

A brisk 10 minute walk every day can make a difference to your health. Each 10 minute burst of exercise is known as an “Active 10”.Brisk walking is simply walking faster than usual, at a pace that gets your heart pumping. Start with a 10 minute brisk walk a day and then see if you can gradually build up to more.

It’s the easy way to improve your health and wellbeing. No gym memberships, no Lycra. Just 10 minutes and you. Find out more at nhs.uk/oneyou/active10/.

Fitness trackers

Fitness trackers can come in all shapes and sizes. From ones that simply track your steps, to those that can record your heart rate. Some can even go under water. Whichever you choose, look for one that helps keep you motivated.

Not sure which tracker is right for you? Take a look at our guide to fitness trackers here. 

Four tips to keep active with diabetes

If you are living with diabetes, it's important to keep active and healthy.

Use pedal power to commute

Try swapping your car for a bike. Not only is it a fun way to exercise, but it’s also a good way to eliminate the stress of rush-hour traffic. If you work too far away to cycle, you can always park your car 15 minutes away and power walk your way into the office.

Make everyday tasks more physical

Ever thought about fitting in some squats and stretches while doing your household chores? Or, how about adding extra weights to your vacuum cleaner to work out your arms? And when cleaning the car, why not opt to do it yourself instead of using the car wash? Even while shopping, you can use a basket instead of a trolley to work your muscles that bit harder.

Socialise on the move

When a friend suggests meeting for lunch, catching up over drinks or going to the cinema, suggest an active option instead. Maybe joining a boot camp, going to a kick boxing class or taking for a brisk walk around the local park.

Use a fitness tracker

If you’d like to count your daily steps, keep track of how many calories you burn or know how healthy your heart rate is, there are many apps, pedometers and smartwatches to choose from. We have a range of fitness trackers that may help to keep a log of the exercise you do.

Ask for expert advice

Come in to your local LloydsPharmacy at any time and our expert healthcare team can advise you on managing your diabetes, following a healthier lifestyle and recommend what’s best for you from our product range.