Physical Activity for Good Health

Most people understand that physical activity is an important part of managing diabetes, and promoting overall good health. However, getting started can be challenging, especially when trying to figure out what type of physical activity is best. Here we outline the different categories of physical activity, and the recommended amounts of each type, and provide suggestions for incorporating physical activity into your daily routine. If you don’t currently exercise or are minimally active, get your doctor’s approval and begin activity gradually.


Types of Physical Activity & Recommended Amounts - WHAT

Activity Type Examples How much? Potential Benefits
  • Brisk walking
  • Stair-climbing
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Jogging
At least 150 minutes per week, which is 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week; in bouts of at least 10 minutes


  • Heart and lung function
  • Blood glucose control
  • Blood cholesterol & triglyceride levels
  • Immune function
  • Weight control
  • Reduced risk of heart disease & stroke
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Exercises using own body weight e.g. push-ups or with resistance bands or tubing
  • Weight lifting
  • Tai Chi
  • Pilates
At least 2 times per week Improved:
  • Muscular strength
  • Mobility
  • Balance and fall prevention
  • Bone health
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Stretching after other activities
  • Yard work
4-7 days per week
When stretching, hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds - don’t bounce
  • Muscle health
  • Mobility
  • Joint health
  • Balance and falls prevention
  • Injury prevention

In addition to the outlined benefits, ALL forms of physical activity may help reduce stress, improve mental health and sleep – benefits that ANYONE can appreciate! For people with diabetes in particular, regular physical activity improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin and helps manage blood glucose levels.

Top 10 Tips for Being More Physically Active - HOW

Realize the benefits of physical activity by experimenting with these strategies. The aim is to go no more than 2 days in a row without exercise. 
  1. Exercise safely. Talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program and listen to your body. Monitor your blood glucose before, during, and after strenuous activity and be prepared to treat low blood glucose levels. Learn more about this here
  2. Start off gradually. For example, start with aerobic activity and walk for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Build up over time to your goal or the recommended amount. The good news is that multiple, shorter exercise sessions of at least 10 minutes in length are probably as useful as a single longer session of the same intensity! 1
  3. Slow and steady wins the race! Make one change every week or two. Adding a new activity or increasing the duration of activity every one or two weeks allows for a more gradual adjustment into your new exercise program. 
  4. Build it into your everyday routine. Small additions to your regular routine make it easier to maintain. For instance, do more of the activities that you already do, such as walking the dog or gardening; incorporate a walk in your lunch hour or immediately after dinner; or stretch or do strength/resistance exercises while watching your favourite TV show instead of just sitting on the couch. 2
  5. Enlist help of professionals. If you are new to activity, join a gym or local recreation centre as most have staff to help with activity questions. You can also seek the help of a Kinesiologist or Certified Personal Trainer to teach you how to become more active. 3
  6. Enjoy yourself! It’s hard to stick to an activity that is not fun for you. It may take a few tries to find activities that you enjoy, but it’s worth the effort! 
  7. Plan for the seasons. Have a collection of activities that you can do in each season so the weather doesn’t derail your efforts.
  8. Set goals and track progress. It’s hard to stay motivated and stick with an exercise routine if you don’t have a goal. Track your progress using a daily log and keep challenging yourself. Pedometers can help track steps in the day as well - aim to achieve 10,000 steps a day. 
  9. Use your support network. Exercise is easier to maintain if you have others to be accountable to. Ask your family, friends, and co-workers to join you in your exercise efforts and keep each other motivated! 
  10. Celebrate your successes. Making lifestyle changes isn’t easy, so reward yourself when you reach your goals. Buy a new app or music for your phone/computer, or go to a movie – just make sure to reward yourself to acknowledge your achievement!

Although achieving and maintaining a physically active lifestyle isn’t a simple task, it’s one of the most important things you can do to manage and live well with your diabetes. For some people physical activity can be as powerful as glucose lowering medication with fewer side effects, and fitness level is one of the strongest predictors of a longer, healthier life for people with or without diabetes. 4

Canadian Diabetes Association (2012)
Canadian Diabetes Association (2012)  
3 Canadian Diabetes Association (2012)
Canadian Diabetes Association (2012)