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What can I do?

Exercise – benefits and how much?

Regular physical activity is important for each and every person, including people with diabetes. In this article, we talk about the benefits of exercise for people with diabetes and how to get started.


Benefits of exercise for people with diabetes

Exercise has many benefits for all individuals. For people with diabetes, exercise is a crucial part of managing the condition and living well. For a person with diabetes, exercise helps:1
Insulin to work better (which improves diabetes management)
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Lower blood pressure
• Reduce risk of heart disease
• Reduce stress

How much exercise do I need?

For good health, it is generally recommended you do about 30 minutes of exercise each day.1 You can do this in one 30-minute session, or, if easier, break it up into three 10-minute sessions throughout the day.1
For people who need to lose weight, 45–60 minutes of exercise each day is recommended.1

Getting started with exercise

For people with diabetes, it is recommended that you speak with your healthcare professional before starting a new exercise program or making changes to an existing program.1 This is particularly important if you have any diabetes-related complications, such as retinopathy or nephropathy.1 Your healthcare professional will be able to advise you on the types of exercises that are more suitable for you, and which types of exercises to avoid.

When starting out with any exercise program, the best approach is to take it slowly.1 This is particularly helpful if you currently have an inactive lifestyle. To increase your general fitness, it is also helpful to slowly increase your general day-to-day physical activity (e.g. taking the stairs instead of the lift, getting up to change the TV channel instead of using the remote control, doing housework and gardening).1 Avoid watching too much TV or sitting at the computer for a long time.1

If you are feeling unwell or have ketones present in your blood or urine, do not take part in strenuous physical activity.1 An exercise plan, created together with an accredited exercise physiologist, can be helpful. Your GP will be able to refer you to a local service.

What types of exercises can I do?

Anything that gets your body moving counts. Here are some suggestions of exercises for you to discuss with your healthcare professional:1

• Walking
• Swimming
• Cycling/exercise bike
• Dancing
• Gardening
• Golfing
• Weight training
• Tai Chi
• Water aerobics

You can also check out our exercise plans for various activity levels. Please discuss with your healthcare professional which of these may be most suitable for you and read our exercise tips to help you make the most out of your physical activity.

Top tips to increase your physical activity at work and home.

While exercise is important for people with diabetes, physical activity is just as important. But aren’t they the same thing?

The terms are often used interchangeably, however physical activity refers to all movement that increases energy use, whereas exercise is planned, structured physical activity,2 such as going for a jog.

When you’re busy, planned exercise often gets put on the back burner, but that doesn’t mean you should stop moving altogether. By finding ways to incorporate incidental physical activity into your day, whether at work or home, you can help improve glycaemic control and your overall health.2 Every bit counts!

Here are some ways you can get more movement into your day with just a few small changes.

  • Stand up and move around for 1-2 minutes every half an hour. Make use of an alarm or calendar reminders in your phone to prompt you.
  • Do some stretches as soon as you wake up, even while lying in bed. At work, start incorporating stretches during your breaks or even while sitting at your desk.
  • Perform some body weight exercises during short breaks, such as calf-raises, knee to elbow and standing wall press-ups. 5-10 minutes is all you need.
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift whenever you get the chance.
  • If you drive to work, park further away than usual and walk the extra distance.
  • Take public transport to work – it may encourage you to be more active.
  • Schedule walking meetings at work.
  • Do more household chores, more frequently.

Get moving in the garden


1. Diabetes Australia. Exercise. Available at: 

2. Colberg S. et al. Diabetes Care 2016 Nov; 39(11):2065-2079.