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Getting active and staying active

While we all know that being active is good for our health, both physical and emotional, it’s important to be aware that getting active and staying active can help you manage your Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes or help you reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes. For example, UK Chief Medical Officers’ Guidelines state that physical activity can reduce your chance of Type 2 diabetes by up to 40 per cent as well as reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, joint and back pain, depression and dementia. 

Being active will:

  • help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight
  • increase the amount of glucose used by the muscles for energy, so it may sometimes lower blood glucose (sugar) levels
  • help the body to use insulin more efficiently – regular activity can help reduce the amount of insulin you have to take
  • improve your diabetes management (particularly Type 2 diabetes)
  • strengthen your bones
  • reduce stress levels and symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • improve your sleep

How much activity do we need to do?

The good news is all physical activity helps – whether you are a busy parent, teenager, sat at a desk all day or in your retirement years, doing any amount of activity can be beneficial. As well as activity in your daily routine such as getting to work, gardening or doing the housework, if you’re able, try to do some exercise. You can start with something gentle, like walking, and gradually work your way up to 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise, five times a week.

Whatever your age, the less time you are sedentary the better, except for time spent sleeping. Department of Health guidelines recommend:

Early Years (Under-5s, not yet walking)

For children not yet walking physical activity should be encouraged from birth, through floor-based play and water-based activities.

Pre-School (Under-5s, capable of walking)

180 minutes (3 hours) per day spread throughout the day. Most UK pre-school children get 120-150 minutes each day so see about adding another 30 minutes to each day.

Children & Young People (5-18 years)

At least 60 minutes moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise each day, ideally more. Three days a week should include vigorous-intensity activities that strengthen muscle and bone.

Adults (19-64)

150 minutes (2.5 hours) each week of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity. Muscle-strengthening activity should also be included twice a week. Activity can be spread out through the day into bite-size chunks, eg 30 minutes, 5 days a week.

Older Adults (65+)

As above for adults but post-65, additional health benefits include maintaining cognitive functions and reducing risk of falls.

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, five 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. You should be slightly out of breath.

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.


Exercise and blood sugar levels

Activity may affect your blood sugar levels both during and after exercise. Regular checking will help you to understand how activity affects your blood sugar levels. Test your levels more often before, during and after any physical activity.

Avoiding hypos

If your blood sugar levels are below 7mmol/l before you exercise, have some extra carbohydrate. Always have your hypo treatment with you as well as your medical ID. If you are with friends, make sure they know how to recognise and treat a hypo and, if you are exercising alone, let someone know where you are. If you are trying to lose weight, it’s probably best to reduce your insulin doses in advance rather than increasing your intake of carbs. Talk to your diabetes team about how to adjust your insulin or the amount of carbs you take. 

Avoiding high blood sugar levels

Be careful when your blood sugar levels are above 13mmol/l as activity can raise it higher. If this happens, this is probably because you don’t have enough insulin. Think about giving yourself an extra dose of bolus insulin (correction dose) but please talk to your diabetes team about how to do this.


Getting active: top tips

Being more physically active often conjures up images of gym memberships, long-distance runs and intensive aerobics. But the great news is that you can become more active by making small changes to your lifestyle – you can fit it around your daily life, in your budget. Follow our top tips help make your life more active. 

1. Enjoy it!

If you enjoy it, you are more likely to keep it up. Better still, try activity you can enjoy with family or friends. Don’t be afraid of trying new things, or was there a sport you did years ago you’d like to start again?

2. Start slow

Doing just a little bit more than you did before will still make a difference. So build up gradually, and give your body time to adapt as your muscles strengthen. If you have any medical conditions, do speak to your healthcare team before starting any new activity.

3. Make small changes

Walking is free, and a simple way to improve your fitness. Beat the traffic and leave the car at home for small trips, or get off the bus or train one or two stops earlier and walk the rest of the way. Why not use your lunch break to go for a brisk walk or take the stairs instead of the escalator?

4. Set yourself goals

You’re more likely to stick to your more active life if you set goals. Set realistic short-term and long-term targets, keep an exercise diary and tick off your achievements – you’ll be amazed at the improvement and progress you’ll see. When you reach a goal, treat yourself for your hard work.

5. Variety is the spice of life

Once you are fitter and exercising regularly, shake it up a bit and vary your routine. Try swapping cycling on an exercise bike for cycling outdoors, or try a new class at the gym. If you are starting a new activity check with your healthcare team to see how this will affect your diabetes

6. Make it social

Instead of meeting friends for a coffee or in the pub, why not suggest doing something active? You could start a walking club, get gardening, play tennis, golf.... or hit the dancefloor.

7. Don’t give up

Although your body benefits as soon as you become more active, you may not see all the benefits straight away as it can time for your body to adapt to the activity. So stick with it and you’ll soon see the positive results.