When it comes to exercise and managing diabetes, good timing can make a big difference. Regular workouts are a key tool to help you control your blood sugar level, and choosing the right time to exercise can help even more. Timing exercise for better blood sugar is a topic you'll want to discuss with your doctor or certified diabetes educator (CDE). It's especially important if you take insulin to manage your diabetes.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers these recommendations for timing workouts for better blood sugar levels:
Check your blood sugar level – The NIH recommends that people with diabetes check their blood sugar before working out, immediately after and again sometime later, as exercise can impact your blood glucose level for up to 12 hours. Working out longer than 45 minutes? Check your blood sugar during exercise as well. If you're on medication to control your blood sugar, and workouts routinely cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), your doctor may need to adjust your dosage.
Take extra care if you use insulin – Ask your doctor or CDE for advice on what you should eat before, during and after workouts, as well as if you need to adjust your insulin dose to compensate for physical activity.
Keep a carb-rich snack on hand – In the event you do experience hypoglycemia, a small snack, such as a half-dozen hard candies, fruit juice or regular soda, can help raise your blood sugar level in a hurry. Ask your doctor or CDE which snacks are best.
Maintain a consistent workout schedule – Exercising at the same time each day, and at the same intensity, makes it easier to keep your blood sugar level on an even keel. If you have type 1 diabetes, your doctor may tell you to avoid strenuous workouts when you have ketones (chemicals your body produces when blood sugar is high and insulin is low) in your blood or urine. Exercising when you have ketones can cause your blood sugar to skyrocket.
Be active after meals – Trying to decide if you should exercise before or after dinner? A study from Old Dominion University found walking after a meal helps lower blood glucose levels better than a pre-supper stroll. It's a pleasant way to end the day – and it's good for your blood sugar.
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