Exercises to Lower Your Blood Sugar

How to lower your blood sugar with exercise.

Exercise affects your blood sugar in different ways depending on the type of activity you’re doing. For people with diabetes, exercise can lower your blood sugar for at least 24 hours after your workout, making you more sensitive to insulin. This means if you exercise regularly, your blood sugar will consistently be lower. How much lower depends on the individual, the exercise type, and the duration. Still, it’s not uncommon to find your blood sugar is 25-50 mg/dL lower overall just from the effects of exercise.

Most forms of aerobic exercise – walking, biking, running, dancing, and swimming will lower your blood sugar levels. However, some forms of exercise can temporarily raise your blood sugar levels. Learn what types of exercise you should be careful with, especially if your blood sugar levels are high when you start exercising. This article will also discuss the types of exercise that significantly lower blood sugar and how exercise can help manage your diabetes and lower blood glucose levels.


Research has shown that walking is the best exercise a person with diabetes can do. Walking is a great first step as long as your doctor has okayed you to start exercising. One study found that walking for 10 minutes after eating lowered blood sugar levels by 22%! With respect to exercise, Total Diabetes Wellness recommends walking as the first step towards managing diabetes and reversing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Some of the benefits of walking include:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and lose body fat
  • Prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, and type 2 diabetes
  • Improve cardiovascular fitness
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Improve muscle endurance
  • Increase energy levels
  • Improve your mood, cognition, memory, and sleep
  • Improve your balance and coordination
  • Strengthen immune system
  • Reduce stress and tension

A common goal for walking is to reach 10,000 daily steps (approximately 5 miles) each day. This step count should include all your movement throughout the day and doesn’t have to be done all in one setting.

10,000 steps can be an intimating goal, especially if you’re just starting or haven’t been active in a while. Don’t worry if you aren’t able to reach this goal right away. What is more important than reaching an arbitrary goal is that you get starting walking daily. If you can only reach 1,000 steps, then work towards consistently achieving 1,000 steps every day for a few weeks. 

As you continue to reach your daily goal, you will find it becomes easier over time. After a week or two, work on slowly increasing your daily goal. How much you increase your goal depends entirely on your fitness level. Increasing your daily step count by 500 steps every few weeks may be appropriate for one person, while another person may be able to increase their daily steps by 2,000 every week.

We’re all working towards a healthier lifestyle and improving insulin sensitivity. There’s no “prize” for reaching 10,000 daily steps the fastest. It’s more important that you achieve this goal in a safe manner that will also be sustainable long-term. After all, this physical activity is something you are incorporating into your lifestyle, not just a temporary “quick fix.”

Spontaneous Physical Activity (SPA)

Spontaneous physical activity is all of your daily movement outside of exercise. For example, your daily movement walking around your home, walking through a store while shopping, and walking up the stairs at work are all examples of SPA.

Note: SPA is also referred to as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT, like SPA, refers to all activity outside of exercise that burns calories.

SPA is one way to help increase your overall movement and daily step count. Many of us spend a lot of time being sedentary at work, at home, or commuting. While not all of this can be changed, being mindful of small changes you can make throughout the day can significantly increase your daily steps.

Some examples of ways to increase SPA include:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator
  • Parking at the far end of the parking lot, if safety permits
  • Getting up and walking around on tv commercials or between episodes
  • Take a break and walk around the office 
  • Stand when you can (instead of sitting)
  • Play with your kids or pets outside or have a dance party inside
  • Wash your car by hand instead of using the carwash

It’s important to note that spontaneous physical activity should not replace your daily exercise. Movement throughout the day is important for your overall health and helps keep you from becoming too sedentary. However, extra movement alone does not fulfill your body’s exercise needs. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, resistance training or other physical activity is beneficial for managing diabetes and overall health.

When it comes to managing diabetes, all movement is important. By working to increase your daily SPA, you are taking steps to improve your overall health, wellness, and blood sugar control.

Activities That Will Quickly Lower Your Blood Sugar

Safety first: Your blood sugar should be above 100mg/dL and below 250mg/dL before exercising. Please consult your doctor if you are outside of this range. You should wait to exercise until your blood sugar is within this range. Full disclaimer here.

When to Avoid Exercise
If your blood sugar is above 250 mg/dL, we recommend putting off exercise until your blood sugars are consistently below this level. These lower levels can be obtained by focusing on diet and sleep first.

Why to Avoid Exercise over 250 mg/dL
Ketones are substances made when stored fat is broken down for energy. The presence of ketones indicates that your body doesn’t have enough insulin to control your blood sugar. When ketones are quickly produced, they can cause Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). DKA is a serious, sometimes fatal, condition that requires immediate medical treatment.

Although it can be feasible to exercise if your blood sugar is over 250 mg/dL, it can be potentially dangerous. If you exercise when you have high blood sugar and ketones present, you risk DKA as the ketones will cause your blood sugar level to rise even higher.

If your blood sugar is above 250mg/dL, you need to test your urine for ketones using an over-the-counter ketone test kit (available at most pharmacies or drug stores.) If ketones are present, do not exercise. If ketones are absent, we recommend consulting with your doctor before exercising.

If you find your blood sugar high, going for a brisk walk, bike ride, playing outside with your kids or pets, having a dance party in your living room, or another form of aerobic exercise should help lower your blood sugar.

You want to pick an activity that you can maintain for 20 to 30 minutes that will raise your heart rate. Most kinds of movement will work – a brisk walk is the easiest option for most people. If it’s raining or snowing outside, you could walk around your house, dance, or rotate through some moderate exercises like jumping jacks, squats, and lunges. If you have joint or back issues, an elliptical machine would be a great substitute for walking.

A good rule of thumb is you should be able to maintain a conversation during your activity. If you are doing something that has your heart rate so high that you’re breathing heavily and can’t hold a conversation, you should pick a less intense activity or reduce the intensity of that exercise. Exercises that raise your heart rate to high levels are great for overall health, fitness, and endurance. However, these exercises may also temporarily RAISE your blood sugar levels, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve in this scenario.

Make sure you’re also drinking plenty of water. Many people don’t drink enough water and may be dehydrated, contributing to higher blood sugar levels. Water helps your body eliminate excess glucose, which is especially important when you have diabetes.

Exercises That Improve Insulin Sensitivity and Lower Blood Sugar Long Term

Resistance training, also known as strength training, is one of the best activities you can do to improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels long term. Don’t let this intimidate you. You don’t have to lift huge weights or go to the gym daily.

You can, of course, do either of these activities if they appeal to you. If you’re just starting out, you may be more comfortable doing exercises at home that use bodyweight or resistance bands.

Resistance training works to strengthen your muscles and increase your overall muscle mass. By increasing your muscle mass, your metabolism increases, which allows your body to burn more calories during the day, even when not exercising. Another benefit of increased muscle mass is your insulin sensitivity improves. The more sensitive your body is to insulin, the lower your blood sugar levels will be, and blood sugar will be easier to manage.

Resistance training will temporarily raise blood sugar levels during and after exercise for most people. Because of this, it is important to ensure your blood sugar levels are below 250mg/dL before you start any resistance training exercises. While this raise is only temporary, if your blood sugar levels are already high to start, you should pick a different activity (like brisk walking) to lower your blood sugar.

Some people are concerned with looking like a body builder or getting bulky muscles. These types of muscle gains require a specific weight program of lifting a certain number of reps and sets, as well as a specific amount of rest in between sets. These types of gains also require a specific high protein diet and certain macronutrients dependent upon the time of day and workouts completed. It takes a lot of work to make these types of gains, so don’t worry about gaining too much muscle. These gains require an intentional approach, and even then, it can be difficult for people to still acquire the muscle gains they may desire.

The Bottom Line

As long as your blood sugar is in a safe range to exercise, moderate exercise that raises your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes can quickly lower blood sugar levels. Brisk walking is one of the best forms of exercise anyone can do, especially if you have diabetes.

While resistance training is excellent for improving insulin sensitivity and lowering blood sugar levels long-term, it will temporarily raise blood sugar levels during and immediately after exercising.