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Exercising with Type 2 Diabetes

Manage Glucose, Lose Weight, and Reduce Complications

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If your doctor has diagnosed you with Type 2 diabetes, then she has probably already told you about the importance of adding exercise to your treatment plan. Physical activity can help you improve your blood sugar control, lose weight, and reduce your risk of heart disease, peripheral artery disease and nerve problems that are often associated with diabetes. In many cases, the right combination of diet and exercise can even help eliminate the need for medication for people with Type 2 diabetes.

But before you get started, you need to understand how exercise influences blood glucose regulation, and how to avoid potential problems, minimize risks, and recognize when you may need to get additional information or support from your health care provider. *The general information in this article is not a substitute for talking to your health care provider before you begin an exercise program, or if you experience any problems in connection with your exercise.

How Exercise Benefits People with Type 2 Diabetes

In addition to boosting your energy levels, mood, and capacity to burn calories for weight loss, regular exercise can lead to the following benefits:
  • Improved blood sugar control by enhancing insulin sensitivity. Exercising on a regular basis makes muscles use insulin better. When muscles are able to use insulin better, they are able to pull more glucose from the bloodstream to use for energy. The more vigorously you exercise, the more glucose you’ll use, and the longer the positive effects on your blood glucose levels will last.
  • Increased insulin sensitivity. Type-2 diabetics who exercise regularly need less insulin to move glucose from the bloodstream and into the cells that need it.
  • Reduced need for medication. Combined with a healthy eating plan, regular exercise can reduce—or even eliminate—the need for glucose-lowering medication in some people.
  • Reduced cardiovascular risks. Diabetes has negative effects on heart health, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. Exercise reduces these risks by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol, lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, and reducing triglycerides in the blood stream. Physical activity also improves blood flow, increases your heart’s pumping power, and reduces blood pressure.
The Best Exercises for People with Type 2 Diabetes

Always discuss your exercise plan with your doctor before starting, especially if you’re taking medication or experiencing diabetes-related medical complications (discussed above and below).

Experts generally recommend that people with diabetes engage in moderate aerobic (cardio) exercise that lasts at least 30 minutes, on four or more days of the week.
  • Always warm up for at least five minutes before you exercise, and cool down for at least five minutes afterwards before you stop moving.
  • If it’s been a while since you’ve done much physical activity, and 30 minutes at a time is too much right off the bat, you can start with 10 minutes (or even less) and gradually increase your workout duration as you become more fit.
  • Moderately-intense cardio should elevate your heart rate to a level that is challenging, but not so difficult that you can’t do it for 30 minutes.
  • Examples of moderate intensity exercise include brisk walking, bicycling, dancing, swimming, climbing stairs, cross-country hiking, aerobics classes, cardio machines such as the elliptical, skating, tennis, and other sports.
  • If you pick activities that you enjoy, you'll be more likely to stick with your exercise plan.
  • Being active every day is better for you than doing more exercise on fewer days of the week, and scheduling your exercise at the same time of day can help with blood glucose control.
In addition, moderate strength training (except as noted below) and flexibility exercises are also highly beneficial. These exercises will help you better use your muscles without soreness and decrease your risk of injury.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

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