Be physically fit - you know you'll like it!

Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for the body and an excellent way to stay healthy. But exercise is also an effective way to regulate or improve your diabetes management. It is important though that it is done in a safe and well-educated manner.

People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them a sense of well-being and health benefits. However, when it comes to exercising with diabetes, there are a few challenges that need to be taken into consideration.


Exercises that increase blood sugar:

One of the most conservative ways of diabetes control is exercise, but there might be some activities or exercises that may increase blood sugar levels. During certain activities the body might release adrenaline (a glucose counter regulatory hormone) that apposes the action of insulin and may raise blood sugar levels. An example of this is a low repetition, high resistance weight training sessions, for example, a free weights bench press or barbell back squat. Competitive sports like running a marathon or playing in a team sport might also raise blood sugar levels due to a rush of adrenaline that forms part of the competitive stresses. Although, in contrast to this, the blood glucose levels might drop during practice sessions. This is something to take into account if you are an athlete with diabetes or thinking of starting a Strength Training Program.

Exercise that lowers blood sugar:

These types of exercises are more beneficial to someone struggling to keep their blood sugar levels low. Daily life activities like gardening or sport activities like jogging will lower the insulin requirements. Dose adjustments of pills or insulin or increased carbohydrate consumption might be required in these cases.


· Lower blood sugar levels

· Improve insulin sensitivity

· Improve circulation in the body

· Increased energy and endurance throughout the day

· Weight loss with improved muscle tone – especially beneficial for Type 2 Diabetes

· Better resistance to other illness – boosting your immune system

· Lowers the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels

· Lower heart rate

· Stronger bones and lowers the risk of osteoporosis

· Reduce stress and enhance quality of life

· Better sleep at night


Diabetes South Africa (DSS) recommends two different types of exercising for managing diabetes: Aerobic and Strength Training


A cardiovascular activity consisting of rhythmic, repetitive and continuous movement of large muscle groups for at least 10 minutes at a time. The goal is at least 150 minutes per week or 30 minutes every other day of moderate intensity (this means working up a light sweat but still being able to maintain a conversation).

Examples include brisk walking, dancing, cycling, swimming, gardening or housework.


Activities of brief duration involving the use of weight machines or resistance bands. Calisthenics such as sit-ups/ push-ups/ pull-ups/ squats using your own body weight as a resistance force. Try to do 2-3 times a week, consisting of 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions of moderate intensity (this means using a size weight that allows you to do 10-15 reps comfortably).

Together with the two abovementioned exercises it is highly recommended to complete a good warm-up and cool-down session and include proper stretching exercises.


It can be challenging and overwhelming to start exercising for the first time or getting back into a workout routine. External demands like hectic work hours or family responsibilities can keep us from making our health a priority. But, “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and starting the right exercise regime for you might be a very good health investment!

Firstly, it helps to know what counts as exercise and how to start a program that works for you. Exercising does not mean you have to join a bootcamp or work up a sweat in the gym. Any physical activity counts towards improving your health. A good goal to set, is achieving at least 10 000 steps per day or burning about 400 calories per session. However, you don’t have to start there immediately. If you are just starting exercise for the first time, start at a level you are comfortable with. The first and most important step is to increase your daily activity levels. Examples include:

· Park your car at the far side of the parking lot

· Take the stairs and not the lift

· Exercise at your desk during breaks

· Schedule family time by doing more activities like Parkrun

· Start with 10 min exercise sessions and gradually increase the frequency and intensity

Before taking all these steps, it is important to first get clearance from your medical doctor and seek the guidance of your medical team; the Diabetes Educator, Dietitian, Podiatrist (if you have circulation/foot problems) and Biokineticist.

A biokineticist is ideal to contact to help design a personalized exercise program that suits your needs, personal goals and lifestyle.

Written by: Lee-Ann Nieuwoudt (Bsc.Hon Biokinetics)

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