Living with Type 2 diabetes is no picnic, but exercise — along with smart food choices — can make things a little easier.
Exercise increases insulin sensitivity, so your muscles can better use glucose for energy. This helps lower blood sugar levels for up to 72 hours after exercise, according to Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD, founder of Diabetes Motion, an educational website about exercise and diabetes.
But exercise not only improves blood sugar control (this is essential for managing Type 2 diabetes), it also reduces risk of heart disease, aids weight loss, and improves overall well-being, according to a 2016 position statement from the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
There are four kinds of exercise that benefit people with Type 2 diabetes. Aim to include each in your weekly routine.
Cardio exercises like walking, jogging and cycling improve insulin sensitivity, blood sugar levels, lung health, immune function and fitness, according to the ADA position statement.
Cardio training offers many short-term benefits for people with Type 2 diabetes, “but you’re only as good as your last bout of exercise,” Colberg-Ochs says. So, try to do some form of cardio (i.e., walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, rowing, elliptical training) at least every other day, she adds.
Resistance training is key for adding and maintaining muscle mass, which is one spot where your body stores carbs. “You want to have as much muscle as possible to combat aging effects and exercise regularly to keep your carbohydrate storage capacity as high as possible,” says Colberg-Ochs. Resistance training also improves blood sugar control, insulin resistance, fat mass, blood pressure, and strength in people with Type 2 diabetes, according to the ADA’s 2016 position statement.
Performing exercises to improve your balance is critical for helping prevent falls, especially if you have diabetes, and you’re over the age of 40, according to Colberg-Ochs. And, if you have diabetes-related loss of sensation in your feet (also known as neuropathy), balance training is doubly important.
Aim to do some form of balance training daily. “This training can be as simple as practicing standing on one foot at a time, or involve balance exercises and core training,” Colberg-Ochs says.
Flexibility training can help your joints move through a greater range of motion, which may make it easier to perform a wide variety of exercises.
Colberg-Ochs recommends performing flexibility- and mobility-focused exercises 3–7 days per week. This may include static or dynamic stretching or activities like yoga or tai chi.
HOW MUCH EXERCISE SHOULD YOU GET?
The more inactive you are, the more you’ll benefit from small increases in physical activity. “In other words, getting up off the couch by itself helps if you’ve been on it all the time, and you can gain more from even minimal amounts of exercise,” Colberg-Ochs says.
In fact, adding small amounts of physical activity, like 30 minutes of walking, may improve blood pressure, cholesterol and body weight, according to research in people with Type 2 diabetes.
That said, make it a goal to meet the minimum recommendations from the CDC: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio (i.e., brisk walking) and two days of full-body resistance training every week.
Find activities you enjoy so you can make exercise a long-term habit. “Walking, swimming, cycling, dancing or playing a sport you enjoy can all increase the heart rate and produce beneficial effects on diabetes control,” says Julie Adkison, PharmD, a certified diabetes care and education specialist.
STAY SAFE DURING EXERCISE
It’s generally more dangerous to stay sedentary than to exercise. That said, watch out for dehydration and unhealthy blood sugar levels.
“Staying hydrated before and during exercise is important, as well as ensuring that blood sugar is in a safe range,” Adkison says. So take caution with exercise if your blood sugar is less than 100 mg/dL or greater than 250 mg/dL. “People who take insulin should aim for a blood sugar of at least 140 mg/dL before engaging in exercise,” Adkison says.
If you’re currently inactive, be sure to get checked out by your healthcare provider before you start any vigorous exercise to make sure you’re free of diabetes-related complications, Colberg-Ochs says.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.