Getting active and staying active

Physical activity is an essential part of everyone’s life and there are a number of compelling reasons for people with diabetes to take regular exercise:

  • Physical activity increases the amount of glucose used by the muscles for energy, so it may sometimes lower blood glucose levels.
  • It will help you to keep fit, lose weight or maintain a healthy weight and sharpen athletic skills. And of course you can get active purely for enjoyment. 
  • Being active helps the body to use insulin more efficiently, and regular activity can help reduce the amount of insulin you have to take.  
  • Losing any weight that may be necessary and maintaining a healthy weight will improve management of Type 2 diabetes
  • Being active strengthens your bones
  • Muscles which are working use more glucose than those that are resting.
  • You’ll be more mobile, less out of breath and you’ll sleep better.
  • Daily physical activity has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety



What counts as activity?

All physical activity counts from doing the housework to running a marathon. The Department of Health guidelines recommend:

  •  Under-fives: 180 minutes - three hours - each day, once a child is able to walk.
  • Children and young people : 60 minutes and up to several hours every day of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity. Three days a week should include vigorous intensity activities that strengthen muscle and bone.
  • Adults  and older people : 150mins - two and half hours - each week of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity (and adults should aim to do some physical activity every day). Muscle strengthening activity should also be included twice a week.


Note: Activity can be spread out through the day into bite-size chunks. One way to do your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on 5 days a week.


What is moderate physical activity?

Moderate-intensity activity will raise your heart rate,  make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you're working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk, but you can't sing the words to a song.


What is vigorous intensity physical activity?

Vigorous-intensity  activity means you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.


Making the change

There are many ways to overcome any barriers which might have stopped you exercising. You could discuss the options with your heathcare team. Here are some tips to get you moving:

  • Include walking in your everyday life. Instead of meeting friends for a coffee suggest a walk or a trip to the shops. Leave the car, or get off the bus two stops earlier and walk.
  • Try dancing, swimming, golf, cycling, bowling or gardening.
  • Enjoy fun with the kids and join in with their activities, such as kicking a ball around the park.
  • Even those essential jobs around the house like vacuuming and DIY will help.
  • If you are starting a new activity check with your healthcare team to see how this will effect your diabetes.



Top tips for an active life

  • Build up gradually. If you have been inactive for years your body may take time to adjust as your heart and muscles tone up.
  • Set yourself daily, weekly and monthly goals or targets.
  • Try keeping a physical activity diary to monitor your progress and reward yourself for achieving your goals.
  • Try varying your activity to avoid boredom, and don’t be afraid to try new activities.
  • Don’t give up. Although your body benefits as soon as you become more active, you may not see changes straight away. After a few weeks the benefits will become more noticeable

Regular habits in your daily routine are easier to achieve. If you find an activity you enjoy, you are more likely to keep it up. Try taking up an activity the whole family or your friends can enjoy.


Exercise and blood glucose levels

Activity may affect blood glucose levels both during and after exercise. Regular blood glucose checking will help you to understand how activity affects your blood glucose levels. Be aware of hypos. And remember to keep an eye on your feet too.