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Physical activity, healthy meal plans, and the use of diabetic control medications or insulin are major aspects in the treatment of diabetes. Staying active and fit will enable better control of diabetes and maintenance of blood sugar at target levels. Controlling blood sugar levels is important in the prevention of long term complications of diabetes such as glaucoma, kidney diseases, and diabetic wounds

Importance of physical activity in type 2 diabetes patients

The benefits of physical activity are enormous. However, the most important is its ability to control blood glucose levels. In type two diabetes, there is excess sugar in the blood due to insufficient insulin production or insulin resistance. Exercising can drop blood glucose levels.

Muscles, Exercise, Blood Glucose, and Insulin Resistance.

During physical activity, muscles can use up glucose without insulin action. When you exercise, your muscles get glucose as required irrespective of whether you are insulin resistant or secrete inadequate insulin.

Also, in the case of insulin resistance, physical activity increases the effectiveness of insulin. Body insulin concentration drops during exercise, and cells can use glucose more efficiently

Physical Activity and CVD.

Besides, exercise can help in the prevention of long-term complications of diabetes, especially heart problems. Diabetes patients are more prone to having blocked arteries which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Physical activity increases blood flow and keeps the heart-healthy. It also helps to maintain blood cholesterol levels by preventing high cholesterol and buildup of plaques which can restrain blood flow in arteries.

Exercise, Weight Loss, and the Immune System.

It is not surprising that exercise also helps in weight loss and improves balance. Overweight and obese people are more likely to have diabetes and diabetes complications. Among type 2 diabetes patients, being obese (Body mass index of over 35) increases the risk of imbalance and falling.

Physical activity also helps in boosting the immune system, hence helping the body clear of diseases. The immune system boosts with exercise and blood sugar management can help diabetics stay healthy.

Points to consider before beginning with Exercise

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Upon diagnosis, most diabetics are overweight hence exercise becomes challenging. However, an excellent exercise plan is important. The patient should see a diabetes counselor or doctor before beginning.

  • The doctor will perform some relevant assessments like heart health especially if you have high blood pressure and blocked arteries.
  • Also worth considering will be diabetes-related complications like neuropathy. The doctor will help you figure out which exercise routine best suits the patient’s needs
  • Ease into it. Set realistic goals before beginning with the exercise. Start slow, and gradually increase the amount and intensity of physical activity. If you’re inactive, you can begin with 15minutes of exercise and then gradually work up to 25 and 40 minutes a day.
  • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated and take along some carbohydrate snacks (fruits, drinks) in case of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
  • Check your blood sugar before exercise. If you have to work out for over an hour, check your blood sugar regularly to ensure you are not hypoglycemic. Also, check your blood sugar after work out to ensure it is within the target range.
  • Make exercising a habit. To prevent hypoglycemia, exercise, eat and take your medications at the same time every day
  • Exercise with someone aware of your health status, so that they will know what to do if your blood sugar gets low

Points to consider when exercising with diabetes

Will, it hurt your joints?

Long-term diabetes can cause glycation which is a build-up of sugar in joints. Good control over diabetes may delay glycation, but is more likely to come with time. Glycation can lead to stiff and brittle joints. Thus during exercises, making fast moves could lead to a joint injury. Repetitive routines can also cause problems. Stiff and brittle joints can cause you to lose your balance and fall.

Also, most diabetics take cholesterol medications called statins which cause muscle or joint pain. This leads to the inability to do high-impact moves quickly or correctly. These drugs make joints and muscles to be more prone to injuries.

Soft exercises like yoga, tai chi, and pilates are recommended in this case as they will help build strength, balance, and flexibility.

Do you have any complications of diabetes?

Some of the complications of diabetes can make you more prone to injuries, depending on the type of exercise you do.

Nephropathy or nerve damage.

Diabetes-related nerve damage or peripheral nephropathy can make patients lose feeling in their feet and toes. It also affects balance and increases the chances of falling. In this case, choose exercises that don’t impact joints such as swimming.

Autonomic nephropathy which is another type of nerve damage can make you faint if you walk around speedily.

Eye problems

Proliferative retinopathy is one of the complications of diabetes. It causes the growth of new blood vessels in the eyes, which are often weak and leaky. When a patient lifts heavyweights, jumps, or holds their heads down as in some yoga poses, these blood vessels can start bleeding. To prevent this, see your doctor and have a dilated eye exam done. This will help him tell which workout exercises are safe for you.

If you want to switch from one moderate exercise to the other, you might not need to see your doctor, but if you feel the need to switch up from moderate to a high-intensity workout, go for a check-up first. You might have unconsciously lost feeling in your feet, hat glycation, or diabetes-related eye disease.

Proposed Exercises for Diabetes Patients

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Below are some exercises which can help in the attainment of fitness goals


Walking can help you meet your recommended target for aerobic exercises by going for a 30minutes walk five days a week. This type of physical activity can help type 2 diabetes patients lose weight and drop their sugar levels too


Swimming is less stressful to the joints. Swimming can give the heart, muscles, and lungs a workout without putting stress on the joints


Cycling is also a joint-friendly exercise. Most people with type 2 diabetes have arthritis or may have diabetic neuropathy which results from damaged nerves. Both conditions lead to lower joint pains. Lower impact exercise is more convenient for diabetics with joint pains. Cycling minimizes strain on joints while you achieve fitness goals

Team sports

In case of lack of motivation to exercise, joining recreational sports can be helpful. The chance to socialize and the commitment you owe them will help you get the needed motivation. Recreational sports can also be good sources of aerobic workouts. You can try football, handball, soccer, and basketball

Aerobic dance

Dancing improves aerobic fitness and helps with loss. An example of aerobic dance is Zumba which combines dance and aerobic exercises for work out. Thus signing up for an aerobic dance class can help meet fitness goals.


Weightlifting increases the number of calories burnt each day by building muscle mass. American diabetes association also reports that strength training helps to improve blood sugar control by increasing insulin sensitivity. Weight lifting can be done using household objects (like water bottles), weight lifting machines, and free weights. Consider meeting a weight lifting trainer or joining a weight class to learn how to lift weights effectively.

Resistance band exercises

Apart from weights, resistant bands are other tools you can use in strengthening your muscles. In addition to increasing strength, these bands can provide benefits to blood sugar control. Speak with a professional trainer or attend a resistance band class


Calisthenics is an exercise that involves using your body weight to strengthen your muscles. Examples of calisthenic exercises include pushups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, and abdominal crunches.

Whether you choose to strengthen your muscles with weights, resistance bands, or your body weight, try to work out every major muscle group in your body.

The ADA suggests that you give the body some time to recover by taking a day off muscle-strengthening activities after every session.


Pilates is a popular fitness model. It is designed to improve core strength, coordination, and balance. Pilate may also help improve blood sugar regulation in type 2 diabetes patients.


In type 2 diabetes patients, yoga plays a role in managing blood sugar, dropping cholesterol levels, and losing weight. Yoga can also help in reducing blood pressure, improving sleep quality, and mood-boosting.

A yoga class or professional trainer can help you use the proper posture and breathing technique

Bottom Line.

Being diagnosed with diabetes may seem weird for newbies but life must be lived at its best. Making changes to your lifestyle including routine physical activities can help in controlling blood glucose. Ensure that you talk with your doctor and chose exercise routines that suit your body and lifestyle.

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Sheri R. ColbergRonald J. SigalBo Fernhall, Judith G. RegensteinerBryan J. Blissmer, Richard R. RubinLisa Chasan-Taber, Ann L. Albright,  and Barry Braun. (2010) Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2010 Dec; 33(12): e147–e167. doi: 10.2337/dc10-9990
PMCID: PMC2992225