5 Exercises for Diabetes Control (and Why It's Important)By Carole Anderson Lucia Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, R.D. Expert Reviewed
If you have Type 2 diabetes, you likely know that following a healthy diet is key to managing your condition. But did you know that exercise for diabetes control can be just as important?
Regular exercise is beneficial for all people in numerous ways, as it can help:1
- Lower your blood pressure
- Reduce your LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Raise your HDL (good) cholesterol
- Manage your weight
- Strengthen your muscles and bones
But exercise is even more vital if you’ve got diabetes, as it can help:1
- Lower your blood glucose levels
- Increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin
- Reduce risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease
Those are some pretty impressive benefits, right? Still, you may have questions about exercise and diabetes: What are the best exercises for diabetes? How often should I be exercising? We’ve got the answers to these questions and more in our complete guide to exercise for diabetes!
Remember to always consult your physician before starting a new exercise routine.
Q: How does exercise help diabetes?
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A: There are three broad categories of exercise: aerobic, resistance/strength training and flexibility/balance. Aerobic exercises include activities such as jogging or swimming; resistance exercises are typically performed using weights, resistance bands or your own body weight; and flexibility/balance exercises include activities such as tai chi and yoga.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), both aerobic and resistance training have been shown to be beneficial for diabetes management.3 For instance, regular aerobic exercise may reduce A1C levels, a marker of diabetes that also can be used to determine how well you’re managing your condition.4 In addition, aerobic exercise can help lower your blood pressure, insulin resistance and triglycerides; it also could improve glycemic control, particularly if you participate in 150 minutes or more of aerobic activity per week.3
Resistance training, meanwhile, can help improve glycemic control, insulin resistance, blood pressure and lean body mass.3
The ADA adds that while the effects of flexibility and balance exercises on diabetes have not been firmly established, some studies have shown that such activities may help improve glycemic control, lipid levels (the amount of fat in the blood) and other related features of diabetes.3 These types of exercises may also help improve the balance and joint mobility problems that are common with the condition.3,5
Q: How much exercise should I be getting each week?
A: While you should check with your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program, the ADA suggests that most people with Type 2 diabetes should get a combination of all three types of exercises each week — ideally, getting some form of exercise daily.3
Specifically, the organization recommends:3
- Aerobic exercise: Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, spread over at least three days.
- Resistance exercise: Aim to do resistance training 2-3 times per week on nonconsecutive days.
- Flexibility and balance exercises: 2-3 times per week is recommended.
In addition to following the guidelines above, being more active throughout the day may also help improve your glycemic control. If you sit for extended amounts of time (due to your job, for example), aim to take a break every 30 minutes and do a few minutes of light activity. Take a walk around the office, get up and use the bathroom, get a glass of water — anything to get your body moving, the ADA recommends.
Q: Should I take any safety precautions when exercising?
A: According to Harvard Health, there are certain safety measures you should take when exercising (be sure to consult your healthcare provider):1
- Consider exercising 1-3 hours after eating. This is when your blood sugar is likely to be higher.
- If you use insulin, ask your doctor if you should test your blood sugar before exercising.
- Always wear a medical alert bracelet that indicates you have diabetes and whether you are using insulin.
Q: What are some good exercises for diabetes?
A: There are a number of exercises that can help you manage your diabetes. Here are five:
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There’s a reason walking is such a popular form of exercise: It’s simple, it can be done virtually anywhere, and it requires little more than a good pair of shoes. What’s more, it can be modified to suit your activity level.
New to exercise and want a mild-intensity workout to get your body moving? Take a leisurely lap or two around your neighborhood and gradually increase from there. Want a moderate-intensity workout? Up the pace and pump your arms. Ready for a vigorous workout? Throw in some hills and increase your distance.
Walking can be helpful for people with diabetes when done after eating as it can improve glycemic control.3 In fact, the ADA recommends walking for 15 minutes after a meal.3
Many experts consider swimming to be one of the best exercises for people with diabetes.8,9 Not only does it provide an excellent aerobic workout, but it stretches your muscles and is gentle on your joints, which can be an important perk for people with diabetes, since joint mobility can be a common issue. The Cleveland Clinic recommends swimming at least three days per week starting with 10 minutes per session, then gradually increasing the length of your workout, as well as the number of days you swim, from there.9
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Whether you use a stationary or traditional bike, cycling provides a great aerobic workout that is easy on your joints. It’s also a good way to incorporate a type of training that can be particularly helpful for people with diabetes.
Called high-intensity interval training, HIIT involves short bursts of intense aerobic activity, followed by longer periods where you exercise at low to moderate intensity. According to the ADA, HIIT may be better than standard aerobic training for improving insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes (though the organization adds that it may not be appropriate for some people with diabetes; check with your doctor).3 HIIT can be used with other forms of aerobic activity as well, such as walking, jogging or swimming.
4. Strength training
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Whether you use resistance machines, free weights, resistance bands or your own body weight, doing regular resistance training may significantly increase strength in adults with Type 2 diabetes. According to the ADA,3 one study found that using free weights or weight machines can increase strength by approximately 50%. But that’s not all: Doing regular strength training might also improve your A1C levels.3
Not sure how to get started with resistance exercise? Check out 6 Tips to Start a Strength Training Routine.
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According to the American Osteopathic Association, there are many potential benefits of yoga:10
- increased flexibility, muscle strength and tone;
- improved energy;
- improved ability to manage your weight;
- improved cardio and circulatory health;
- and improved stress management.
And for adults with Type 2 diabetes, there may be other significant benefits, including improved blood pressure, body composition, glycemic control, insulin resistance and lipid levels, research suggests.11
If you’re new to yoga, try enrolling in a beginner’s class — not only will your body thank you, but you may also enjoy the sense of community and camaraderie that is common among yogis.
No matter which exercise you choose, getting active is a great way to support your overall health and weight loss goals. If you need help crafting a meal plan designed just for diabetes — Jenny Craig can help. Click here to learn more about our science-backed Type 2 program and how you may be better able to manage Type 2 diabetes with diet.
Carole Anderson Lucia
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus
Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including a scientific, peer-reviewed paper. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.