Exercise is one of the most powerful, yet simple, tools in your diabetes management toolbox. There are many well-known benefits of exercise—it can help control weight, lower LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and strengthen bones and muscles. For people living with diabetes, exercise has additional benefits. It makes your body more sensitive to insulin, which helps with glycemic control and may reduce your risk of diabetes-related complications.
While most people know how much exercise they should be getting to manage their diabetes, many don’t know when they should exercise. You may wonder if before or after meals is better or if there is a best time of day to exercise. Learning about the best time to exercise with diabetes can help you and your healthcare team create an exercise routine that works for your diabetes management plan.
Is There a Best Time to Exercise With Diabetes?
The American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (that’s about 20 minutes a day). But there are currently no clear guidelines or recommendations regarding the best time to exercise with diabetes. However, emerging research is giving us clues about what times may be most beneficial for improving glycemic control and preventing diabetes-related complications.
Should You Exercise Before or After Meals?
One of the most challenging parts of diabetes management for many is keeping blood glucose levels in your target range after eating a meal. Postprandial, or after-meal, spikes are temporary high blood glucose levels that occur soon after eating. Levels typically are highest within 90 minutes after the start of a meal, though this can vary between people.
Exercising after meals may improve glucose control. Because blood glucose levels seem to peak within 90 minutes from the start of your meal, it’s recommended that you exercise 30 minutes after the start of your meal. However, for many people, this isn’t feasible. Instead, you might consider eating for 30 minutes, allowing your food to digest for 30 minutes, and then exercising for 30 minutes. Exercising after a meal may also be important for reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
While early research suggests that exercising after meals may improve glucose control and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, it’s best to talk with your healthcare team about exercise timing, as they can make personalized recommendations based on your management plan and diabetes needs.
Should You Exercise in the Morning or Afternoon?
Beyond pre- and post-meal considerations, time of day may also influence glycemic control. Several studies have analyzed the effects of exercise timing in relation to the time of day. However, research is still very limited.
For example, a 2015 study of people with type 1 diabetes found that morning exercise was associated with improved metabolic control and a lower risk of late-onset hypoglycemia compared to afternoon exercise. On the other hand, a 2018 randomized crossover trial analyzing the effect of morning versus afternoon exercise on glycemic control found that afternoon high-intensity interval training (HIIT) was better than morning HIIT for improving blood glucose in men with type 2 diabetes.
Currently, there’s not enough research to pinpoint the “best” time of day to exercise with diabetes. The “best” time may be different for each person based on sex, type and cause of diabetes, type of exercise, and other factors, so it’s important to talk to your healthcare team and monitor your blood sugar levels as you find a routine that works for you.
Exercise and Blood Glucose Monitoring
Regardless of when you exercise, it’s important to include blood glucose monitoring as part of your routine. Your healthcare team can make specific recommendations for how often to test before, during, and after exercise. Depending on the intensity and duration of your exercise, they may recommend you check several times before, during, and after exercise.
Exercise can make your body more sensitive to insulin, so it can lower your blood glucose levels up to 24 hours or more after your workout (late-onset hypoglycemia). It’s important to keep a close eye on your glucose levels to help prevent hypoglycemia during and after exercise. If you’re worried about testing interfering with your workout routine, you may consider using an automatic blood glucose monitor (AMBG), such as the POGO Automatic® Monitor, which allows for automatic lancing and blood collection with the press of a button. This is a great tool if you want to keep your glucose testing breaks short or if you want to discreetly test in a public location like a gym.
So, When Is the Best Time to Exercise with Diabetes?
While there may be benefits to exercising at specific times of day, the “best” time to exercise with diabetes should be determined by you and your healthcare team. Based on your treatment plan, your body’s glycemic response to exercise and meals, and your unique lifestyle and preferences, your healthcare team can make personalized recommendations.
Jaclyn Owens is a product director specializing in diabetes management tools. She is committed to using technology to empower people with diabetes and help them take control of their health.
All content on this website is for educational purposes only and does not replace the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.