Weekly Exercise Targets

The magic number: 150.

You’ve likely heard that getting 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week can help you manage your diabetes. But dedicating that much time to exercise can seem daunting if you’re busy, don’t enjoy working out or have diabetes-related complications that make physical activity difficult. But don’t worry: Tackling 150 minutes of exercise is much easier than you might think!

Be sure to check with your health care provider before starting or changing your exercise plan.

Why 150?

Any physical activity is better than none at all, but most health organizations say you need a minimum of 150 minutes of activity per week to reap significant results. But a slow stroll won’t cut it. To benefit, you’ll need to work out at a moderate intensity—at this pace, you’ll be able to talk, but not sing.

Regular physical activity has lots of benefits for people with diabetes, including improved blood pressure and blood glucose (blood sugar) control. Plus, research has shown that doing 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise can reduce your chances of heart disease and premature death, compared with being sedentary.

Spread it out

Instead of viewing weekly exercise as one huge goal, think of it as a series of mini goals. Depending on your schedule and preference, you could aim for 50 minutes of exercise three times a week, 30 minutes five times a week or 25 minutes six times a week.

Each breakdown will have a slightly different impact on your blood glucose. To really reap the benefits of exercise on glucose control, keep your muscles in a constant state of increased glucose uptake. To do that, try to go no more than 48 hours between exercise sessions. To maximize the benefits, aim to exercise five to six days a week.

Shorten your sessions

It’s easy to brush exercise aside if you don’t have a 30 to 60-minute chunk of time, but you don’t need a wide-open schedule to meet your fitness goals.

Think about three spots in your day where you could fit in 10 minutes of exercise. It could be a 10-minute jump rope session before work, a 10-minute walk at lunchtime and 10 minutes on an exercise bike after dinner.

The health benefits remain: 10 minutes of exercise three times a day gives you the same cardiovascular benefit as 30 minutes at one time. Just don’t go too fun-sized with your sessions. When you’re working at a moderate intensity, sweat sessions that clock in at 10 minutes or more are the most beneficial for heart health.

Setting smart goals

If a goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound, there is a higher chance of sustaining the new behavior, seeing results and avoiding any lapses or relapses.

Sure, you might be aiming for 150 minutes of mountain biking each week. But you might also fill those 150 minutes with shorter, less-intense activities. Something as simple as vacuuming for 10 minutes could get your heart rate up. Doing this type of mini activity throughout the day is a more realistic and attainable fitness goal for people who have diabetes-related complications, too.

Fine-tuning your fitness level

Are you a novice exerciser or total pro? It makes a big difference in the type of exercise routine that will work best for you.

If you’re new to fitness, create goals that help you gradually build toward 150 minutes of exercise. If you sit at a desk all day and don’t have an exercise routine, your first goal might be to get up from your desk twice every hour and do a walking tour of the office. From there, add 10 minutes of exercise a week until you reach the 150-minute mark. It’s not about how long it takes you to get to that goal, what’s more important is taking the steps to get there.

Make time for fitness

A successful exercise routine works into the demands of your day. To find a time that works for you, think about when you have availability and when you’re at your most energized.

Your medication regimen may also affect your workout timing. Certain diabetes drugs, such as insulin and sulfonylureas, can increase your risk for low blood glucose (hypoglycemia). Add in the blood glucose–lowering effect of exercise, and your evening workout may up your risk of overnight lows. In that case, you might be more likely to stick with a morning or afternoon workout regimen instead of working out in the evening.

Sometimes, increasing your amount of exercise will affect your medications. If you aim to exercise two to three hours after eating, for instance, you may need to reduce your premeal bolus of rapid-acting insulin to prevent lows.

How to stay motivated

Choosing an activity you enjoy, creating a log to monitor your progress and preparing for snags—all of these can help keep you motivated.

Have fun.

Making exercise fun will help you stick with it—nobody wants to do 150 minutes of something they don’t enjoy! Find workouts that will check off those boxes for you—whether that’s a dance class, a pickleball league or a walking club.

Track your progress.

Logging your workouts can help you track just how many of those 150 minutes of exercise you have left to meet this week. Make sure your exercise goals are right in front of you every day to act as a visual reminder. That could mean a calendar on your wall, a day planner on your desk or an app on your phone or computer.

Excuse-proof your plan.

Come up with an alternative workout option for days the weather isn’t great or things don’t go as planned. Instead of cycling outside, you could walk laps at the local mall, use the elliptical machine at the gym or do 10 minutes of stair-climbing at home.

Enlisting a friend to exercise with you is another way to ensure you won’t bail on plans. It could even motivate you to go the extra mile.