- The best exercises for diabetes include any type of moderate physical activity, such as walking, gardening, or playing tennis.
- If you have diabetes or are at risk, it is important to take about 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, as this can help reduce blood sugar levels.
- Make sure you learn to talk to your doctor about how to exercise safely with diabetes, especially if you have type 1, which can come with greater health risks.
- This article is reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, was done by a family-medical doctor and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
- For more advice visit Insider’s Health Reference Library.
Exercise and physical activity are extremely beneficial for overall health. And if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or may be at risk, the benefits are quite useful.
“Regular exercise is particularly important for people living with diabetes,” says Alex Lee, MD, Internal Medicine Specialist in Los Angeles.
But exercise can also present some complications for people with diabetes. How to create a safe, effective workout routine if you have diabetes.
Why exercise is important for people with diabetes
Both the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association agree that exercise is “important for optimal health” in individuals with diabetes.
When you exercise, your body burns glucose, or blood sugar, for fuel. It helps in lowering your blood sugar level. As you exercise more, this effect increases over time, leading to a decrease in insulin resistance. Reducing insulin resistance is important, as it causes type 2 diabetes.
Regular exercise can also help you build muscle and reduce fat, both of which increase your body’s ability to use insulin. In general, people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes benefit from being more sensitive to insulin.
“In the short term, it can reduce blood sugar and in the long term it can improve insulin sensitivity,” says endocrinologist Emory Hsu of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, San Jose, California.
A 2019 scientific review published in the Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine has found evidence that structured exercise – such as engaging in an eight-week exercise class – may reduce insulin resistance for people with type 2 diabetes. The average participant saw a drop in their blood sugar by 5.12 points after the intervention.
In addition, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Jiroft University of Medical Sciences followed 28 women with type 2 diabetes for eight weeks. Fourteen participants did not exercise, while the other 14 did aerobic exercise (cardio) three times a week and resistance training twice a week. After eight weeks, the exercise group had lower blood sugar and lower insulin resistance than the control group.
How much exercise do you need
According to a 2016 statement by the ADA, people with diabetes, like all other American adults, should aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
“If you’re not already exercising, don’t let this number scare you.” “Any exercise is better than none, and you can start more slowly and ramp up.”
The ADA recommends that people with type 2 diabetes or who are at risk for daily exercise and do not spend more than two days for physical activity. Most types of physical activity can be counted as exercise, even gardening, or walking.
“If you’re walking, it means you should start sweating faster or feel like you need to breathe more quickly,” Hans says.
Other types of moderate exercise include:
- mowing the lawn
- Playing tennis
- Casual bike ride
All these types of exercises can be beneficial. A 2019 scientific study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science followed 905 people with type 2 diabetes who were previously inactive. They did aerobic exercise, resistance training, or a combination of the two for 49 minutes three times per week.
The study found that A1C levels decreased in all three types of training, which measure average blood sugar over time. Combination training had the greatest impact, followed by aerobic exercise and then resistance training.
Overall, it is important to make exercise a permanent part of your daily and weekly routine. Try a walk on your lunch break, or use a resistance band after work. Whatever allows you to hit the targeted 150-minute practice is the right plan for you.
How to exercise safely with diabetes
Exercise is recommended for all people with diabetes, although some people may need to take extra precautions. For example, people with type 1 diabetes should be especially careful.
“For type 1 diabetes patients, exercise can reduce blood sugar more dramatically,” Hans says. Very low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can cause health complications in severe cases, including seizures and coma.
According to the ADA, people with type 1 diabetes should carefully plan their exercise around food intake and insulin supplements. It is also important to measure your blood sugar levels before, during and after exercise – or check your blood sugar with a continuous glucose monitor.
Overall, if you have type 1 diabetes, it is best to work with your doctor to develop a routine.
If you have diabetes and are starting an exercise routine, you should take the following steps:
- Talk to your doctor. Let them know if you have any other health complications with diabetes, such as eye problems, heart disease, or stroke.
- Start slow. Familiarize yourself with how your blood sugar is affected by measuring your blood sugar before and after exercise and monitoring for any major changes. Your blood sugar should remain within the healthy range that you and your doctor have established.
- Monitor your feet for ulcers or sores. Many diabetic patients have reduced sensation in their feet, Lee says, so you may not have pain from wounds. Visual monitoring can help you spot them and prevent infection.
Working your way at least 150 minutes of exercise per week can help you manage your diabetes and low blood sugar. Exercise with diabetes – particularly type 1 diabetes – may create some additional planning, but the health benefits are worth it, Lee says.
For more information, read about how to lower your blood sugar with further lifestyle changes.