When you have type 2 diabetes, regular exercise does more than keep you in shape. A daily workout can help lower your blood sugar and make your cells more sensitive to the effects of insulin. Becoming more active can also lower your A1C levels.
Staying fit has many other benefits, too. Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. Exercise can help you manage your weight, reduce levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, and boost levels of HDL (good) cholesterol — all of which are good for your heart.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that adults with diabetes get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise a week. Combine that with two to three sessions of weight training weekly.
For older adults, the ADA also suggests doing flexibility and balance exercises two to three times a week.
Becoming more active doesn’t require an expensive gym membership. You don’t even have to leave your house. Here are some exercises you can try right at home.
Walking is one of the easiest aerobic exercises to do, and you don’t need any equipment — just your two feet. To ensure you’re getting the steps you need each day, take a 5- to 10-minute break from what you’re doing every 30 minutes and go for a walk outside or around your house.
Aim to get in at least 30 minutes of walking or another aerobic exercise each day.
You can walk in place, down the hall, up and down the stairs, or you can use a treadmill. Household chores that involve walking, like mopping or vacuuming, also count.
Yoga is a 5,000-year-old practice that strengthens the body, improves flexibility, and calms the mind. It incorporates poses, stretching, and deep breathing. This practice has been investigated for a number of health conditions, including diabetes.
Practicing yoga regularly improves blood glucose control and helps prevent diabetes complications. Yoga also incorporates balance exercises, which can help you avoid a fall if you’re unsteady from diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy).
Some styles of yoga are safer than others for people with diabetes. Take a class or follow along with a video to learn how to do the poses correctly. Never push beyond your comfort level or to the point of pain. Be sure to move out of poses slowly to avoid sudden blood pressure drops.
The Pilates method is named for Joseph Pilates, who created this exercise program in the 1920s. It consists of low impact exercises that strengthen the core muscles and improve balance and posture.
Small studies suggest that practicing Pilates for 12 weeks
Spice up your aerobic routine by dancing. Pop in a ballet (or barre), Zumba, or another dance video, or download a workout from your favorite streaming service and follow along.
A 2015 study found that taking a Zumba class motivated women with type 2 diabetes to exercise more. They also lost weight.
An exercise bike or elliptical machine gives you an aerobic workout without putting stress on your joints. That’s important, considering that people with type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than those without diabetes. Some fitness machines offer classes to give you the gym experience at home.
Short on time? Try high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which squeezes all the benefits of a longer workout into just 20 or 30 minutes. To do HIIT, alternate 30 seconds of intense exercise — such as sprinting in place and jumping — with 2 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises to give your body a chance to recover.
In one small study, HIIT improved both glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes. Over a 2-week period, the HIIT group achieved twice the improvement of the group that did moderate-intensity workouts.
As the name suggests, HIIT is intense. It’s not safe for everyone with diabetes or other health conditions. Check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to do this program.
Although stretching doesn’t affect blood sugar control, it will keep your joints more flexible. That’s especially important if you have arthritis along with diabetes. Ask your trainer or physical therapist to teach you stretches that are safe and easy to do.
Working against the force of resistance increases muscle mass and strengthens your body. You can use light weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight — think planks — to build strength.
In people with type 2 diabetes, resistance training may help improve blood sugar control and insulin resistance, lower blood pressure, and trim fat. If you’re just starting out, work out with a trainer or physical therapist for a few sessions. They can teach you what exercises to do, and how to do them safely to avoid injury.
These workouts will have the greatest impact on your health when you combine them. Alternate walking or cycling, which is good for your cardiovascular health, with resistance training, which strengthens your muscles.
Add in yoga for strength, balance, and relaxation. And don’t forget to stretch a couple of days a week.
One downside to working out with diabetes is that it can cause a drop in blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia. Anyone who takes insulin should test their blood sugar before working out. You may need to lower your insulin dose to avoid dipping too low.
To exercise safely, your pre-exercise blood sugar should be between 90 and 250 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL). Some people need to take in carbohydrates at the beginning of their workout to prevent hypoglycemia. Be sure to contact your doctor if your blood sugar runs on the lower side of normal.
Avoid high-intensity exercise if your blood sugar is over 250 mg/dL. Intense exercise might cause it to spike even higher.
Altering your workout slightly can prevent hypoglycemia. For example, doing resistance exercises before aerobics produces less of a blood sugar drop than working out the other way around.
If you haven’t been active in a while, see your doctor to make sure it’s safe to exercise. Also, check with your doctor if you plan on ramping up the intensity of your workouts.
Here are a few tips to keep you safe while you exercise:
- Start slowly if you’re new to fitness. It’s OK if you’re only able to walk for 10 minutes or lift 3-pound weights on your first try. Gradually increase the time, resistance, and intensity as you get fitter and stronger.
- Wear supportive sneakers with cushioning when you exercise. Don’t work out with bare feet. Nerve damage may prevent you from noticing if you get a cut or other injury on your feet.
- If you have proliferative diabetic retinopathy, avoid jumping, holding your breath, or getting into inverted poses (when your head is below your body).
- Always stretch before you exercise to avoid hurting your joints.
Exercise is an important part of your type 2 diabetes treatment plan. Working out for at least 150 minutes a week can help you lose weight, improve your heart health, and manage your blood sugar.
Working out at home is inexpensive and makes exercise more convenient. Choose an exercise routine you like so you’ll be more likely to stick with it.