Gotta get your blood sugar under control? Get moving! Your muscle cells are the biggest user of glucose in the body, so it makes sense to use your muscles to help control your blood sugar.

Being more physically active helps control blood sugar by using glucose for energy during and after exercise. (When you burn calories, you’re primarily burning glucose.) And it helps your body become more sensitive to the insulin you make, so your cells let glucose in when insulin comes knocking, lowering the amount of glucose in your blood.

Plus, exercise increases your energy, helps you reach or stay at a healthy weight and improves your heart health by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides, raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lowering high blood pressure.

Exercise also helps you sleep better and reduces stress, both of which help control blood sugar. And last but certainly not least, losing weight and controlling your blood sugar may help you get off or stay off diabetes medications.

Try This:

Use a pedometer to log your daily steps. Gradually increase your step count, working toward a goal of 10,000 steps each day.

Hit the Road
One of the best ways to get more active is by walking. “Walking is achievable, under your control and you don’t need a gym or a class to do it in,” says Peggy Doyle, RD, LD, a certified diabetes educator and outpatient dietitian at Cleveland Clinic’s Fairview Hospital Wellness Center.

Start off simply, she advises, to establish the habit: Pick two or three days a week to go for a 10-minute walk. Once you’re in the groove, start to increase the duration and frequency. Aim to walk at least 30 minutes on five or more days a week. Pressed for time? You can break your daily dose into smaller chunks, like three 10-minute intervals.

Walking is also a cost-effective form of exercise. All you need are a good pair of shoes and socks, which are especially important when you have diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar can impair circulation and nerve function, making your feet prone to slow-healing sores that can become infected. So before you lace up those shoes, do a once-over on your feet to check for any problems, and see your doctor if you spot anything suspicious.

Get Active About Your Health:
If you’re not a fan of walking, any activity that gets you moving and breathing a little hard will do. Consider activities you like, advises Doyle, so that you stick with it. Square dancing, gardening, biking and swimming all do the trick. The key is to start doing them more regularly, and then find ways to make them a bit more physically rigorous. For instance, if you play golf, walk the links instead of driving a cart and carry your own clubs.

Try to work resistance training (using weights or resistance bands) into your routine twice a week to build and strengthen muscles. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, resistance training improves insulin sensitivity as effectively as aerobic activity.

Start Smart:
Remember that exercise lowers your blood sugar — which is a good thing, as long as it doesn’t go too low. Check your blood sugar right before and after you work out until you learn how exercise impacts your readings.

As your body adjusts to being more active and you increase the intensity and amount of time you exercise, you may need to lower your medication (if you take any) to keep your blood sugar from going too low. Check with your doctor before making any adjustments to your medication or insulin.

READ MORE: What’s Causing Your Sugar Cravings?

Get Going:
The hardest part about beginning an exercise routine can be taking that very first step. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Pair up: Having a friend along changes your activity from exercise to a social event, notes Doyle. Talking will distract you from how much you’re working — and you might just walk farther than you thought you would. Plus, a walking buddy increases your accountability, making sure you get out and do it.
  • Dogs welcome: “Walking the dog can be a good starting point,” says Doyle. Take your pet for an extra outing each day, or treat your canine companion to an extra-long trek through the park instead of just going once around the block.
  • Hit the stores: Lace up your shoes (and leave you wallet behind) with a mall-walking group at your local shopping center.

by Stacia Jesner