Exercise and Diabetes: Establish a Year-Round Routine

  • author name Gabrielle Nichisti, RD, LDN
Guy doing push-ups

For people with diabetes—or anyone for that matter—exercise can have a huge impact on health. It can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, control your weight, improve your sleep, and even help manage anxiety. The list of benefits goes on and on.

But what’s in it for you? Can exercise really help someone with diabetes? The answer is, absolutely!

In addition to the benefits listed above, exercise also makes you more sensitive to insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps your muscles use up the extra glucose (sugar) in your blood. Not to mention, exercise can lower your blood sugar up to 24 hours or more after exercising.

And while you may exercise routinely in the spring, summer and fall, exercising in the winter can be challenging. But don’t let winter weather dictate your healthy routine. Here are some tips to stay active in winter:

(If you have specific medical conditions such as heart problems or asthma, it is best to see your doctor BEFORE you begin an exercise regimen).

Embrace the Cold

Exercise is safe for most people—even in cold weather. Keep these tips in mind if you decide to exercise outside:

  • Dress in multiple layers so you can easily remove layers if you begin to sweat.
  • Avoid cotton since it will stay wet next to your skin.
  • Don’t forget to dress your head, hands, feet and ears.
  • And of course, keep water and a fast acting sugar on hand, such as glucose tablets (if needed).

That being said, there is such a thing as being too cold out. If the temperature drops below 5 degrees, your risk for frostbite increases. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and remember, the faster you move, the warmer you’ll be!

Go to the Gym

If you truly hate cold weather, go to a local gym when safe. Some people may be intimidated by other gym goers, so consider visiting a few gyms before deciding which one is best for you. Take note of the atmosphere, people, and music; and be sure they have equipment that you enjoy.

Remember, you do not have to exercise in the gym for hours. The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days per week. If you’re not doing that now, slowly build up to it.

Exercise at Home

Use your body weight: A good workout does not have to cost you money. Consider doing some bodyweight exercises like sit ups, planks, wall sits, wall pushups, etc.

Use household items: Use cans/books as weights and chairs for support. 

Exercise bands: Bands are very cheap (as little as $5 at some stores) and versatile. This simple piece of equipment can work out every muscle on your body. Now that’s getting bang for your buck.

Incorporate exercise into your daily routine: Walk when you talk on the phone or march in place during commercial breaks. Park farther from the grocery or take the stairs more often.

Break it up: No time for a 30-minute workout? Split it up. For example, you could walk 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon, and 10 minutes in the evening.

Exercise is a great way to help lower blood sugars, maintain weight loss, and fight winter (spring, summer and fall too!) blues. Don’t let the cold weather prevent you from getting your heart pumping. Even a 10 minute walk outside is better than no walk.

Quick tip: Exercise after meals, especially after your largest meal of the day. You'll get the maximum benefit out of your exercise routine if you’re being active when your blood sugars are likely at their highest.

author name

Gabrielle Nichisti, RD, LDN

Gabrielle Nichisti, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian with the Diabetes and Nutrition Center at Lancaster General Health.

Education: A graduate of the Pennsylvania State University, Nichisti values both education and counseling to connect with her patients. Passionate about leading an enjoyable, healthy lifestyle, Nichisti strives to help others overcome obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Call: 717-544-5923

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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