People who are serious about exercise know there are two key steps to preventing injury and to simply feeling good during exercise. First, you should exercise only as long as you are comfortable, and second, you need to warm up and cool down.
Start slowly and build up. Don't try to do too much too soon. If you've not been physically active, doing too much will make you feel sore and tired, and that may discourage you from continuing. Instead, take a gradual approach, and build up your activity routine as you become fit. A general rule is to increase by no more than 10 percent a week. If, for instance, you're walking for 20 minutes each day, the next week try walking for 22 minutes. Also, use the so-called talk test. If you can't carry on a conversation while you work out, you're probably doing too much.
Warm up, cool down and stretch. To prepare your body for activity and to avoid injury, warm up with 5 to 10 minutes of an easy-does-it activity such as walking or easy bike peddling. Then you may want to stretch gently for 5 to 10 minutes, warming up all the muscle groups. After your workout, repeat with a 5-minute to 10-minute cool-down and stretching session.
Shoot for 30 minutes of exercise a day, if you can. The 30 minutes do not have to be all at once, especially when you're just starting out. You might do three 10-minute sessions of exercise each day at first. As you exercise more, you'll find that you can gradually exercise for longer periods. What is key is that you exercise as many days a week as you can. Three days a week is the minimum, but you'll see more benefits if you exercise five or six days a week. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week, total, of at least moderate-intensity exercise. "Moderate intensity" means enough to raise your heart rate; you might enjoy a brisk walk, a bike ride or a swim. To maximize the effect of exercise on blood glucose control, don't go more than a day or two without exercise.
Add resistance exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people with type 2 diabetes include resistance training (also called weight training) at least twice a week. The American Diabetes Association suggests aiming for three times a week. Doing at least 8-10 different weight-lifting exercises, with 10-15 repetitions each, can help build muscle and may add to the benefits of exercise for glucose control. Check with your doctor before starting: some people, especially those with certain heart problems or diabetes-related eye problems, should not do these exercises.
Written by Bobbie Hasselbring
Reviewed by Beth Seltzer, MD
Last updated June 2008