Exercise has many benefits. When you exercise often, it can improve your overall health. Exercise can:

  • Help the heart work better

  • Increase HDL ("good") cholesterol

  • Lower triglycerides

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Reduce blood sugar levels and your diabetes risk

  • Help you maintain muscle mass

  • Reduce stress and improve mental health

  • Reduce the risk of osteoporosis, colon and breast cancers

Types of Exercise

A well-rounded exercise program will have three types of exercise.

  • Aerobic exercise

  • Strength training

  • Stretching

Aerobic exercise (endurance or "cardiovascular" exercise) should be the base of your exercise program. Aerobic exercise involves continuous movement of the major muscle groups (arms, legs). This results in an increased heart rate and breathing rate. Types of aerobic exercise include:

  • Walking

  • Swimming

  • Running

  • Rowing

  • Cycling/biking

Strength training ("resistance" exercise) involves lifting weights to build muscle strength and size.

Stretching makes muscles more flexible.

Getting Started

Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Choose aerobic activities that you enjoy and fit them into your lifestyle.

Make a plan that includes:

  1. What type of activity you will do

  2. When you will do it

  3. Where you will do it

  4. Why you want to do it

  5. Goals you can achieve

Slowly increase how often, how hard, and how long you exercise. Build up to a goal of at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) per week. To achieve a healthier weight, aim for 250-300 minutes (4-5 hours) per week. You can add shorter sessions together to achieve your daily goal.


Use personal heart rate (HR) goals and perceived effort to gauge intensity. Slowly increase and decrease your heart rate. Use the equation below to find your target heart rate for 60-80% intensity.

Target HR, 60% intensity = (220–Age) x 0.6

Target HR, 80% intensity = (220–Age) x 0.8

Use this table to measure your perceived effort, or exertion. The best exercise is between an 11-13 rating on the perceived exertion scale (PES).

613 Perceived Exertion Scale

Your breathing rate should increase, but not so much that you can’t talk. You should be able to talk, but not sing. If it’s not easy to hold a conversation, you are working harder than needed to have health benefits. Your chance of injury increases if you exercise too hard.

Exercising with Diabetes

The risk of high blood glucose (hyperglycemia) and low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) during exercise is a concern for people with diabetes.

High blood glucose can occur if the blood sugar is high before exercise.

Low blood sugar can be caused by:

  • Too little food before exercise.

  • Exercising when insulin is peaking.

Tips for Diabetics

  • Exercise after meals and snacks.

  • Inject insulin into non-active muscle group and ask doctor if you need to adjust insulin to support regular exercise.

  • Always carry an ID that shows you have diabetes and a fast-acting sugar source during exercise, such as glucose tablets or hard candy.

  • Check blood glucose levels before and after exercise, and sometimes during. Do not exercise if blood glucose is greater than 250mg/dl.

Guidelines for Nutrition During Exercise

613 Guidelines for Nutrition During Exercise

Helpful Tips

  • Wear comfortable shoes with supportive arches that will not cause blisters.

  • Wear loose-fitting, weather-appropriate clothes.

  • Drink plenty of water.

  • Avoid outdoor exercise on hot and humid days (heat index above 85°F).

  • Avoid outdoor exercise when the temperature or wind chill is below zero.

  • If you have diabetes, watch for low blood sugar, and be prepared to treat it.

  • Listen to your body. Slow down or stop and call your doctor if you have:

    • Chest pain, pressure, or heaviness

    • Extreme shortness of breath

    • Extreme sweating

    • Blurred vision

    • Frequent skipped heart beats

    • Dizziness, lightheadedness

    • Nausea

The improvements in your health will be worth the effort!

Who to Call

If you are a UW Health patient and have more questions, please call UW Health at one of the phone numbers below. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition.

UW Health Nutrition clinics and American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH) can be reached at (608) 890-5500.

Health Education clinics can be reached at (608) 287-2770.

If you are a patient receiving care at UnityPoint – Meriter, Swedish American or a health system outside of UW Health, please use the phone numbers provided in your discharge instructions for any questions or concerns.