Managing diabetes

Managing diabetes

Keeping Active

Being physically active every day is important for people of all ages.


Steps to get started

Safety first


A guide to BGLs and exercise 

Know the warning signs 


Being active can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and helps to prevent chronic disease. It also helps you to relieve stress, sleep better, feel fitter, have stronger bones and gives you the chance to interact with your family and friends and meet new people.


The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australian Adults recommend:

  • Think of movement as an opportunity, not an inconvenience.
  • Be active every day in as many ways as you can.
  • Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days.
  • And if possible, also enjoy some regular, vigorous activity for extra health and fitness.



Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you are new to exercise, start off by doing small sessions of your chosen activity. Just 10 minutes is enough to gain benefits. Gradually, as your fitness improves, increase this to 30-60 minutes. If you can't fit long exercise sessions into your day, break your activity up into 10 minute blocks.


Step 2 - MOVE MORE

Adults are recommended be active on most, preferably all, days every week. Exercise done consistently throughout the week helps us to gain even more benefits especially for people living with diabetes. Regular exercise helps to improve the body's ability to use glucose for energy. Research shows this effect only lasts for 24-72 hours though, so we need to do it regularly!



How 'intense' your exercise is impacts upon how often it is recommended you do that activity.


Which is your preferred exercise intensity level?

  • Moderate intensity exercise - If you're breathing more heavily than normal and you can hold a short conversation - you're exercising at a moderate intensity. The guidelines recommend you do between two-and-a-half to five hours of moderate intensity exercise each week.
  • Vigorous intensity exercise - You would be short of breath but able to speak up to one sentence if you're doing vigorous intensity exercise, which is a little more difficult to sustain than moderate intensity exercise.


The guidelines recommend you undertake between one-and-a-quarter to two-and-a-half hours of vigorous intensity exercise each week.


Why not mix it up? Try doing both moderate and vigorous activity each week to make up the recommended amount.


Remember, it's not just what exercise we do - but how we do it that will help improve our health. Exercise that is too light may not give you the recommended health benefits while exercise that is too hard can place you at risk of over-training and injury.



Undertake muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week. Strengthening activities include anything that requires your body to move against a weight or gravity. This would include activities such as lifting tins of food, repeated sitting and standing from a chair or seated leg raises.



Minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged sitting. Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible. Meet a friend for a walking date rather than a coffee, stand on public transport rather than sit or ask whether your workplace can provide standing workstations.

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Safety First

Exercise is important! And it's important you exercise safely. But before you start, make sure you do the following:



See your GP for the all clear, especially if you're over 35 or have had diabetes for more than 10 years. Consider seeking advice from an exercise physiologist for exercise choices.



You can get advice from your podiatrist or GP to choose your footwear. Check your feet and shoes both before and after exercise.



Plan to do your activity at regular times on set days to reduce the chance of hypos. Plan what exercise you'll do, how often, for how long and at what intensity. Talk to your diabetes educator particularly if you're balancing medication.



If you wear medical alert identification, such as a bracelet or chain, ensure you have this on.  Apply sunscreen and protect your head and body against the sun. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercising to avoid dehydration.



  • Am I feeling well? It is not recommended that you exercise when you are feeling unwell. Take time out to rest and recuperate and start exercising again when you are feeling better.
  • Have I checked my blood glucose level?  When you are starting a new exercise routine or increasing the intensity of your current physical activity it is important to check your  more regularly as you can expect it to change. For people who require blood glucose lowering medication or insulin to manage their diabetes this includes checking your BGLs before, during and after exercise.



  • Check your BGLs every 20-30mins if the intensity, type or duration is new to you, or you experience symptoms of hypoglycaemia or hyperglycaemia.



  • Check your BGL and monitor it for up to 24 hours.
  • Have a carbohydrate snack or meal, if required.
  • Be aware of overnight hypoglycaemia. Have a low GI snack before bed if you think your s might drop during the night.
  • If you require blood glucose lowering medication or insulin you may need to adjust your dose as your BGL reduces as a result of the exercise. This is particularly important if you are exercising at a high intensity or for longer than 30 minutes at a time. Speak to your health care team before making any changes to your medication dose.



Finding the motivation to exercise is often more challenging than exercising itself - so find your own source of motivation to exercise, it may be the key to achieving your exercise goals.


Our top five tips to keeping motivated:


  • Join a friend - You'll be more motivated to keep up your exercise schedule if you know someone else is relying on you.
  • Plan ahead - Dedicate time each day to exercise, it will be easier to keep to a schedule and you will start to form a routine.
  • Keep a diary - Track your progress and make goals, if you can see how well you're tracking you're more likely to keep up the good work.
  • Motivational quotes - Surround yourself with encouragement to remind you why exercise is important and encourage you to continue.
  • Reward yourself - Head out for new exercise gear or a massage to keep motivated.

A guide to BGLs before exercise

Discover the effects of your Blood Glucose Levels and exercise


  • < 4mmol/L: A BGL less than 4mmol/L is usually referred to as hypoglycaemia. Exercise should be postponed until you have treated your hypoglycaemia.
  • 4mmol/L - 5mmol/L: Have a small amount of carbohydrate. I.e. piece of fruit or small glass of milk before you start exercising.
  • 4mmol/L - 9mmol/L: This is the ideal BGL range to exercise. Let's get moving!
  • 10mmol/L - 14mmol/L: Caution needs to be taken with BGLs consistently over 10mmol/L, consider gentle exercise and see your GP to discuss ongoing treatment.
  • > 15mmol/L: If your BGL is more than 15mmol/L postpone strenuous exercise. This is considered 'hyperglycaemia' and can cause levels to rise further and lead to dehydration. Exercising when BGLs are above 15mmol/L can also lead to the production of ketones for people with type 1 diabetes.


Know the warning signs to stop exercising

While exercise is generally a safe activity, there are some warning signs to look out for. These signs let you know that you may have overdone it, or your body is having an abnormal reaction to exercise.


If you experience any of the following during exercise, stop and rest.

  • Chest, abdominal, neck, jaw or arm pain or tightness
  • Palpitations, irregular or racing heart beat
  • Feeling faint, light headed or dizzy
  • Leg cramps or pain
  • Symptoms of hypoglycaemia (stop immediately and treat!)


If the pain/symptom does not go away within five minutes, seek urgent medical attention - dial 000. If the symptom subsides see your GP before starting exercise again.


30 minutes of physical activity every day

For good health, Australian's should put together at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every day. You may choose to do this all at once or you can split it up into 10-15minutes blocks. Moderate intensity physical activity is being active enough that your heart is beating a little bit faster, you might start to feel a little puffed but should still be able to hold a conversation. But if you can sing, you need to work a little bit harder!


Keep in mind that the above recommendations are for general health - if your goal is to lose weight you may need to do more than 30 minutes.


Remember to always discuss your exercise plans with your doctor or an Accredited Exercise Physiologist  especially if you have been inactive for a long time, have any medical conditions or injuries.


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