5 Best Exercises for Type 2 Diabetes

5 Best Exercises for Type 2 Diabetes

Learn how working out helps control blood sugar, and the safest ways to get fit.

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By Deborah Wilburn

Regular exercise and a healthy diet are two important ways to help manage your blood sugar levels, boost weight loss and reduce heart disease risks. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), aerobic exercise and strength training are an especially important part of any fitness plan.

In one study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 251 adults with type 2 diabetes were divided into four groups: one did aerobic exercise three times a week for 22 weeks, one did resistance training, a third did both types of exercise and a fourth group didn’t exercise. The researchers found that while blood sugar improved for those doing aerobics and strength training alone, the greatest improvement was seen in participants who did both types of exercise.

To gain the full range of benefits, the ADA recommends doing cardio exercise for at least 150 minutes per week spread over three days, plus some type of strength training twice a week; it also suggests adding flexibility exercises to improve range of motion, and balance exercises to prevent falls.

How to get started

2 / 8 How to get started

Exercise helps lower blood sugar because it removes glucose from your blood and uses it for energy. Your body also stores sugar in your muscles and liver, and the sugar from these sources fuels your workouts. But sometimes working out can cause your blood sugar to drop too low, putting you at risk for hypoglycemia. That’s why it’s important to follow these guidelines to exercise safely:

  • Check your blood sugar before, after and possibly during exercise to be sure it’s sufficient. If not, eat a snack. Generally, it’s recommended that your blood sugar should be between 100 mg/dl and 250 mg/dl before starting a workout. Check with your doctor for YOUR recommended range.
  • Be prepared in case your blood sugar drops too low. Bring something that can bring glucose levels up, such as 4 oz. of juice, hard candy or glucose tablets.
  • Bring a cell phone, and wear a medical alert ID band.
  • Check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program; you’ll want one tailored to your age, overall health and any diabetes-related conditions.

Once you’ve taken these precautions you’re ready to go!


3 / 8 Walking

Walking is an easy-on-the joints exercise that fits into just about any schedule. For maximum aerobic benefit, walk briskly and keep up a steady pace. If you can, take your walk outside. Studies have shown that walking outdoors does more than work your body: it can improve your mood, reduce stress and make you feel healthier. Experts recommend walking for 30 minutes a day, five times a week. You can work up to that by breaking the activity up into smaller sessions, ten minutes at a time. Also, anytime you’re sitting for long stretches of time—working or watching TV, for example—get up and move around for three minutes every 30 minutes.


4 / 8 Swimming

Swimming is another great option for a joint-friendly, calorie-burning workout. And since water provides resistance, swimming has the added benefit of building muscle tone. If you’re new to swimming, shoot for 10 minutes per workout, three times per week; gradually increase your time to about 30 minutes. A water aerobics class is another good option. Be sure to let the class instructor or lifeguard know about your condition before taking the plunge. 


5 / 8 Dancing

We’re not talking about getting audition-ready for Dancing with the Stars, but turning on some tunes and dancing solo or with a partner enough to get your heart rate up can be a fun form of cardio, while the music can give you an energy boost and lift your spirits. 

Strength training

6 / 8 Strength training

Building muscle mass is important for everyone—strong muscles boost metabolism, strengthen bones, help with weight loss and improve cardiovascular health, among other benefits. If you have diabetes, it also helps lower your body’s resistance to insulin, making it easier to manage your glucose levels. This simple routine uses exercise bands to tone your body from head to toe. 

Flexibility and balance

7 / 8 Flexibility and balance

Warm up and cool down with easy stretches for about five minutes before and after each workout. Hold each stretch for 5 to 15 seconds; breathe slowly and deeply and don’t bounce. You should only feel mild tension when you stretch: if you feel pain, pull back or stop.

Practicing yoga is great way to stretch, as well, but it’s important to perform the poses correctly to avoid injury. This beginner’s yoga video can help you get started. Tai chi is another gentle form of exercise that can increase flexibility and improve balance. 

Move more throughout the day

8 / 8 Move more throughout the day

In addition to regular exercise, the ADA recommends that you interrupt long periods of sitting, such as at work or at home, with a few minutes of light activity every hour. This could be as simple as pacing while talking on the phone or doing housework, like running the vacuum. Being more active, along with regular exercise and a healthy diet, work together to help you better manage your blood sugar levels.