How Exercise Impacts Glucose Levels

Nov 13, 2020

It is never too late, and you are never too old to reap the benefits of exercise.  It simply makes you feel good to MOVE more!  Increased activity can work to lower your blood sugar to prevent diabetes or keep it under control.  You may also lose some weight along the way. 

The impacts of physical activity go well beyond the time you are exercising.  You can lower blood sugar up to 24 hours or more after working out by making your body more sensitive to insulin.  It’s important to become familiar with how your blood sugar responds to exercise. Checking blood sugar levels more often before and after exercise can help you see the benefits of activity.  For people who are insulin dependent it’s important to understand the blood sugars readings, so you don’t run the risk of hypoglycemia or determine the need for a snack before or after exercise.  

Exercise draws on stored sugar in your muscles and liver.  As your body rebuilds these stores, it takes sugar from your blood.  The more intense and the longer the workout, the longer your blood sugar will be impacted. Low blood sugar is possible as long as four to eight hours after exercise.  When you do moderate exercise, like walking, you breathe a little harder and your heart beats a little faster.  Your muscles use more glucose from the sugar in your bloodstream. Over time, this can lower your blood sugar levels. It also makes the insulin in your body work better. 

A recent study published in Diabetes Care found that three short walks each day after meals were as effective at reducing blood sugar over 24 hours as a single 45-minute walk at the same pace.  Walking after the evening meal is especially beneficial for impacting evening blood sugar levels. 

 Make a plan to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.  Ask your doctor or diabetes educator which exercise is right for you or if you need to adjust your diabetes medicines or eat a snack.

Here are few suggestions:

  • Walk outdoors or indoors on a track or in a mall (walking is the universal exercise) 
  • Take a dance class or just dance 
  • Swim or try water aerobics
  • Stretch
  • Jump rope
  • Hula hoop
  • Do calisthenics 
  • Try Yoga 
  • Play tennis, basketball, volleyball or racquetball 
  • Take a fitness class
  • Do housework, yard chores or gardening
  • Try resistance training with light weights or elastic bands
  • Ride a stationary or outdoor bike

The perfect exercise plan includes a combination of stretching, endurance and aerobics. Your blood sugars will thank you for including regular exercise as part of your self-care for preventing or controlling diabetes.

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– Sherree Telford, RD LDN CDCES CHWC

Health Advisor

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