10 Exercise Tips for Type 2 Diabetics

Getting regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health. Exercise can lower blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity, reducing blood pressure, improving cholesterol, fighting inflammation, and reduce the risk of several chronic diseases.

If you have type 2 diabetes, exercise is especially beneficial for managing your blood sugar levels. However, there are some things to consider to keep you safe while reaping the benefits of exercise.

1) Find a type of exercise that you enjoy. 

Managing diabetes is a lifelong process. If you want to benefit from the positive effects exercise has on your health, remember that you’re in it for a marathon, not a sprint. Exercise is beneficial when it’s consistent, not just something you pick up from time to time.

In order to be consistent, try to find a form of exercise you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy going to the gym, then you don’t have to! Do you like swimming but loathe running? Stick with swimming! 

Any physical activity that gets your heart rate up will benefit your health. Activities like gardening, walking the dog, horseback riding, and many others are all forms of exercise, so try to stick to activities you enjoy and look forward to doing.

2) Don’t forget about strength training.

A lot of focus is put on cardiovascular (aerobic) exercises like running and walking. However, strength training is incredibly beneficial for improving blood sugar levels with type 2 diabetes.

Strength training helps build lean muscle mass, which can help lower blood sugar. Weight lifting, bodyweight exercises, or the use of resistance bands are all forms of strength training.

Insulin is the hormone that helps lower blood sugar levels. With type 2 diabetes, there is either a lack of insulin secretion and/or insulin resistance when cells don’t respond to insulin effectively.

Insulin resistance in skeletal muscle is the primary defect in type 2 diabetes. Exercise, including strength training, helps improve insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle by increasing glucose uptake in muscle cells. When insulin sensitivity improves, glycemic control improves.

3) Make sure you’re cleared for physical activity, especially if you have certain health conditions.

Exercise is great for most people with type 2 diabetes. However, suppose you have certain health conditions or diabetes complications such as high blood pressure, heart failure, or others. In that case, you should check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise routine.

If you have any history of injury, orthopedic surgery, etc., it’s also a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any type of new exercise. It’s best to ensure the type of exercise you plan to do is safe given your medical history, so you don’t injure yourself.

4) Watch out for hypoglycemia.

Exercise can help lower your blood glucose levels. If you’re also taking insulin or another blood glucose-lowering medication, there is a risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) from exercising. Insulin comes with the greatest risk of low blood sugar among all diabetes medications.

To help prevent hypoglycemia, make sure to monitor your blood sugar and be aware of the symptoms of low blood sugar, such as dizziness, hunger, cold sweat, and mood changes. Having a small snack before exercise can help prevent low blood sugar.

If you’re exercising in a remote area without other people, it’s a smart idea to keep glucose tablets on hand in case of a low blood glucose emergency.

5) Aim to get 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise.

150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise is recommended for general health, especially in type 2 diabetes.

150 minutes a week breaks down into around 20 minutes per day, or 30 minutes five days per week. If you participate in a vigorous-intensity exercise, the target is 75 minutes per week. You can also aim for a mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise.

6) Take care of your feet.

One of the potential diabetes complications is peripheral neuropathy, which can damage the nerves in your feet. Having neuropathy means you might not notice if your shoes are too tight and cause a blister or that you have a rock in your shoe. 

If pressure and pain go unnoticed, a diabetic foot ulcer can develop. Wounds due to diabetic foot ulcers are the most common cause of foot amputations.

To avoid foot injuries, make sure you have properly fitting shoes, perform regular foot inspections, and keep up with foot exams from your healthcare provider.

7) Get support.

Many people enjoy exercising with a friend, going for walks with a coworker, or joining an exercise class. Having someone to support you as they pursue their health goals alongside you can be the extra push you need to keep you going.

If you don’t have access to a gym, but like the idea of guided classes, there are plenty of online workout classes you can try. There are also guided exercise apps like Aaptiv, which coaches you through different exercises like walking, running, weight lifting, and more.

8) Find your motivation and set goals.

You probably have good intentions for your health, but life can get in the way. If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of starting an exercise routine or find that you have a difficult time sticking with a routine, then goal setting can help.

Behavior change is fueled by motivation, so think about what motivates you. Do you want to run a 5k, keep up with your kids, or improve your A1c? Think about your motivation and then set SMART goals – those that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. An example of a SMART goal is “I’m going to go for a 20-minute walk every day at lunch during the workweek for the next month.

9) Don’t forget to stretch.

Tight muscles can lead to soreness and injury. Take the time to do some light stretching before exercise and then more heavy stretching after you’ve exercised and muscles are still warm.

Exercise like yoga and pilates combines the benefits of stretching with aerobic and strength training.

10) Monitor your blood glucose levels.

Exercise can help lower your blood glucose levels by reducing insulin resistance. Monitoring your blood sugars will help you better understand how different forms of exercise impact your blood glucose. Seeing the positive impacts of exercise on blood sugar can motivate and provide your healthcare provider with insight pertaining to any medication changes needed to prevent low blood glucose.

If you’ve implemented a new exercise routine in the past few months, it might be time to check your hemoglobin A1c, which measures your average blood glucose level over the past 60-90 days. Some people are even able to cut back on their medications if their A1c drops to a certain level after making healthy lifestyle changes.


Getting regular exercise is an integral part of diabetes management. Regular physical activity, including cardiovascular and strength training, can help improve blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity

Exercise should be a lifelong lifestyle habit to keep you healthy and your blood sugar levels in balance. If you want to benefit from exercise, be sure to do things you enjoy, set yourself up for success by finding support and setting goals, and keep in regular contact with your healthcare provider to ensure you stay safe and comfortable during your exercise journey.

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  1. Stanford KI, Goodyear LJ. Exercise and type 2 diabetes: molecular mechanisms regulating glucose uptake in skeletal muscle. Adv Physiol Educ. 2014 Dec;38(4):308-14. doi: 10.1152/advan.00080.2014. PMID: 25434013; PMCID: PMC4315445.
  2. Figueira FR, Umpierre D, Casali KR, Tetelbom PS, Henn NT, Ribeiro JP, Schaan BD. Aerobic and combined exercise sessions reduce glucose variability in type 2 diabetes: crossover randomized trial. PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e57733. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057733. Epub 2013 Mar 11. PMID: 23536769; PMCID: PMC3594238.

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