The Best Exercises for Type 2 Diabetes

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Linda Wasmer Smith on October 20, 2021
  • Mature-couple-riding-bikes-in-countryside
    Stay Active with Diabetes
    Having type 2 diabetes gives you another reason to exercise beyond slimming down and getting in shape. Regular physical activity helps you manage your blood sugar, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. And that reduces your risk for diabetes-related problems with your heart, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Here are some of the best exercises to try.
  • people weight lifting on yoga ball
    Get Ready, Get Set
    If you have type 2 diabetes, work with your doctor to develop an exercise plan that’s safe for you. Be sure to include aerobic activities that make you breathe harder and your heart beat faster. The latest diabetes guidelines recommend aiming for 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, spread out over several days.
  • people-walking
    Walk This Way
    Walking is an excellent aerobic activity. It’s easy to do, and you don’t need any gear other than a pair of walking shoes. Aim for a moderate pace — able to talk, but breathing too hard to sing. Keep it interesting by walking with a friend or switching up your route.
  • family mountain biking
    Be a Pedal Pusher
    Other aerobic activities include cycling, hiking, swimming, climbing stairs, rowing, tennis, and cardio classes. Varying your workouts can help you stay motivated. It may also reduce your risk of developing an overuse injury. Just check with your doctor first to make sure a new activity is safe for you.
  • Diverse group of people exercising with kettle bells inside garage gym
    Flex Your Muscles
    Strength exercises, such as lifting weights or using weight machines, not only keep your muscles and bones strong, they also make your body more sensitive to insulin and help lower blood sugar. Current diabetes guidelines recommend strength training two to three days per week in addition to your aerobic activities.
  • Man exercising in the house
    Pull Your Weight
    You can do strength training with dumbbells, resistance bands, or weight machines. But you can also use the weight of your own body to work your muscles. Classic strength moves include crunches, push-ups, and lunges. Not sure what to do? Join a toning class or sign up for a few sessions with a trainer.
  • people doing yoga
    Stretch It Out
    Flexibility exercises — such as stretching — are a great addition to your fitness routine. They reduce stiffness, which helps you enjoy other activities more. Yoga is a particularly good choice. It improves flexibility, works your muscles, and calms your mind. Plus, some studies suggest that yoga may help control your blood sugar, although more research is needed.
  • people stretching
    If You Have High Blood Pressure
    If you have diabetes complications, you don’t have to sit on the sidelines. However, your doctor may recommend avoiding certain activities. For example, people with high blood pressure may need to forego very strenuous activities and heavy weight lifting. But moderate aerobic and strength exercises are usually fine.
  • water aerobics
    If You Have Diabetic Foot Disease
    If you have nerve damage in your feet, avoid high-impact moves, such as running or jumping. However, moderate, low-impact activities — such as walking, cycling, and swimming — are generally OK. If you have a foot sore or injury, chair exercise is one way to stay active until the problem heals.
  • people exercising on yoga ball
    If You Have Diabetic Eye Disease
    If you have diabetic retinopathy — damage to the retina of your eye — avoid very strenuous workouts, heavy weight lifting, and high-impact activities. Also, skip moves that put you in a head-down position, such as some yoga poses. But many moderate, low-impact activities are fine, with your doctor’s approval.
The Best Exercises for Type 2 Diabetes

About The Author

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  2. Be Active. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 16, 2012.
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  5. Staying Motivated. American Diabetes Association, undated.
  6. Exercising with Diabetes Complications. American Diabetes Association, undated.
  7. Stretching and Balance Exercises. American Diabetes Association, undated.
  8. Walking: A Great Place to Start! American Diabetes Association, undated. 
  9. What We Recommend. American Diabetes Association, undated.
  10. Adding Yoga to Your Fitness Regimen. T. Neithercott. American Diabetes Association, October 2012.
  11. Effect of yoga therapy on reaction time, biochemical parameters and wellness score of peri and post-menopausal diabetic patients. Mandanmohan et al. International Journal of Yoga. 2012;5(1):10-15.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 20
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