Physical Activity: Recommendations for Adults

 The more intense the activity, the greater the energy expended.

Recommendations from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, for adults 18 to 64 years of age, whether diabetic or not:

  • At least 150 minutes per week of moderate- to high-intensity aerobic activity, over at least 3 days, remaining inactive for no more than 2 consecutive days;
  • Add at least 2, preferably 3, muscle-and-bone strengthening sessions per week.

Types of exercise



Aerobic exercises use continuous rhythmic movements that work the same muscle groups during more than 10 minutes at a time. These exercises generate energy while benefiting the heart, lungs and cardiovascular system.


Dancing, brisk walking, swimming, skating, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, bicycling, etc.


  • Increase energy expenditure, thereby increasing the amount of glucose (sugar) used by the muscles;
  • Reduce the risks of diabetes complications: cardiovascular disease, nephropathy (kidneys), retinopathy (eyes) and neuropathy (sensitivity, nerves);
  • Help control weight, thereby controlling the diabetes.



Strength exercises apply a force against resistance. They use short, repetitive movements with free weights, weight equipment, elastic bands or the body’s own weight to increase muscular strength and/or endurance.


Cutting and stacking wood, raking leaves, climbing stairs, sit-ups and push-ups, working out on weight equipment, free weights or bands to develop muscle mass and/or tone, etc.


  • Improve strength, body composition and posture;
  • Improve glycemic control.

For people with type 2 diabetes:

  • Improve bone mineral density, thereby preventing osteoporosis.


  • Select light weights (cans, water-filled bottles) and do multiple repetitions (two sets of 20 reps per movement, for example).
  • Learn the proper technique for each movement so you don’t overstress your back and joints.
  • Breathe normally during the exercise. Don’t hold your breath.

If you have eye or kidney problems, consult your doctor before doing strength exercises.



Flexibility exercises use stretching to gently lengthen the muscles. They make the joints more flexible and increase range of motion.


  • Stretching the muscles of the lower back or the hamstrings.
  • Some types of exercise, like yoga, incorporate both strength and flexibility exercises.


  • Help make daily functional motion easier;
  • Help relax the muscles and reduce the risk of injury.

The benefits of flexibility exercises for diabetics have not yet been proven.

A question of intensity

The intensity of a physical activity is determined by the energy expended (number of calories burned). The more intense the activity, the greater the energy expended.

If you chose an activity with a low-energy expenditure, you will need to do it for a longer period of time to expend the same amount of energy as with a more vigorous activity (like running or swimming laps).

Some examples of intensity levels:

  • Low: brisk walking, golf with a cart, slow skating, casual swimming, bowling, social dancing, shopping.
  • Moderate: lawn mowing, golf (carrying your clubs), jogging, swimming laps, tennis, aerobic dance, downhill skiing, bicycling.
  • High: shovelling snow, running, cross-country skiing, soccer, hockey, basketball, racquet ball.

Research and text: Diabetes Québec Team of Health Care Professionals

Scientific review: Cathy Dresdell, M.Sc. Kinesiologist

June 2014 (updated on July 2018)

©All rights reserved Diabetes Quebec


CHUM Hotel-Dieu Metabolic Medecin Day-Care Centre, 2013, Understand Your Diabetes and Live a Healthy Life. Montreal : Les Éditions Rogers limitée. Available in the store.

Sigal R, Armstrong M, Bacon S et al. Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada: Physical Activity and Diabetes. Can J Diabetes 2018; 42 (Suppl 1): S54-S63.