You have diabetes and want to exercise, but are wondering what kind of exercises are off-limits for your condition – whether you’re type 2 or type 1.

Though daily exercise should be part of any diabetic’s blood sugar management, it’s not uncommon for those with diabetes to wonder if there are any exercises they should avoid.

Type of Workouts that Those with Diabetes Commonly Do

• Some form of machine aerobics
• Walking
• Cycling
• Swimming
• Group fitness classes
• Strength training

Type 2 diabetes is strongly associated with obesity and a sedentary life, while type 1 has not been strongly linked to any unhealthy lifestyle choices.

This is why an athletic, physically fit person might one day be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes – clear out of the blue. Most diabetics who play professional sports have the type 1 version.

Are There Any Exercises that Diabetics Should Not Do?

“Overall, any with diabetes can do most of the exercises that everyone else without diabetes can,” says Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD, Professor Emerita, Exercise Science, Old Dominion University, founder of Diabetes Motion, and one of the world’s leading experts on diabetes and exercise.

“The only exceptions are really avoiding certain activities when specific health complications exist,” continues Dr. Colberg.

“For example, people with unstable proliferative diabetic retinopathy (eye disease) should not do activities that involve breath-holding, jumping, jarring and having the head lower than the heart.

“These could potentially cause a retinal hemorrhage, leading to bleeding inside the eye.”

Prohibited types of exercise for those with diabetic retinopathy would thus include:

• Swimming underwater
• Plyometrics (lunge jumps, squat jumps, box jumps, jumping jacks, bunny hops, burpees, etc.)
• Mountain biking on rocky terrain
• Mogul skiing
• Equestrian
• Yoga or any exercise position in which the head is lower than the heart
• Decline bench press (head lower than the heart)
• Sit-ups on a decline bench (ditto)

“People with central nerve damage (autonomic neuropathy) may need to avoid activities with rapid directional changes (e.g., racquetball), as they may lead to dizziness and falling.”

Such activities include:

• Basketball
• Volleyball
• Bootcamp-type fitness class
• And check with your diabetes management team about other activities which seem to be on the borderline for rapid directional changes such as a typical step aerobics class, karate and tennis.

Dr. Colberg adds, “These recommendations are very specific to the complication. Individuals with unhealed foot ulcers on the bottom surface should avoid weight-bearing and aquatic activities until the ulcer is fully healed.”

In summary, those with diabetes but no complications from this disease have no restrictions on physical activity.

But of course, it’s always wise to run new interests by your diabetes management team, such as wanting to climb 14,000 foot peaks, compete in powerlifting competitions or take up CrossFit.

See a list of complications and recommended activities here: diabetesmotion.com/motion-complications

The mission of Diabetes Motion is to provide practical guidance about blood glucose management to active diabetics. Dr. Sheri Colberg is the author of “Diabetes & Keeping Fit for Dummies.” 
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.