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Best Exercises for Diabetics: Low Impact, High Yield

Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, MD · Nephrology · Makati Medical Center


Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Updated Aug 15, 2022

Best Exercises for Diabetics: Low Impact, High Yield

Diabetes mellitus is a sneaky disease that many people don’t even know they have. In the early stages, the solution is typically diet and exercise but we all know those two words are easier said than done. There is a lot of talk about the best diets but what about the best exercises for diabetics?

Why diabetics need to exercise

Don’t get us wrong, exercise is definitely important for everyone but diabetics have extra incentive to do it. Exercise offers several benefits to those with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes. Here are some reasons to try the best exercises for diabetics:

To lose excess weight

First, the most obvious reason is that exercise helps you lose weight. While body-shaming is a no-no, maintaining a certain body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentage significantly improves your health. For type 2 diabetics and those with pre-diabetes, insulin resistance is a common problem.

Improve insulin sensitivity

With insulin resistance, the pancreas makes enough insulin (unlike in type 1 DM). However, the body does not respond well to it. Instead of transporting glucose to the muscles, fat, and liver, the sugar stays in the blood. In response, the pancreas churns out more insulin and eventually wears itself out. Over time, this results in uncontrolled hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and weight gain.

Burn carbs for energy

Another reason why you need to know the best exercises for diabetics is related to the previous statement. Naturally, our bodies prefer to use carbs for fuel (in the form of sugars, like glucose). Now, for someone with a lot of sugar already in their blood, a workout helps utilize it. With less sugar in the blood, less will get converted to body fat and the pancreas won’t work as hard to create insulin.

Reduce complications of diabetes

Lastly, certain exercises help build muscle and improve circulation. Studies show that higher muscle mass burns more calories at rest, which contributes to more fat loss. Doing cardiovascular exercises such as jogging, swimming, and jump roping, improves coordination, calorie burn, and promotes heart health. 

What are the best exercises for diabetics?

While people with well-controlled diabetes are certainly able to do any routine they please, the same may not hold true for more severe cases of DM. People with long-standing diabetes are more at risk of complications. To make matters worse, these injuries are slower to heal and more prone to infections.

Best cardio exercises for diabetics

Jogging

Jogging or even brisk walking are classic exercises. Instead of worrying about how fast you can run, focus on maintaining your heart rate within a certain range and length of time. To prevent injury, wear suitable shoes and socks as those with diabetes are prone to poor or slow wound healing, which can lead to diabetic foot. Avoid rugged trails or uneven ground, as this can increase your risk of falling and getting scraped.

Swimming

Swimming is one of the best exercises for diabetics because not only is it low-impact, it actually serves as a 2-in-1 cardio and strength training workout. The water takes the weight off of your joints and adds resistance, while you go through the motions. Depending on your skill level, you can do laps around the pool, water aerobics, or use a kickboard.

Dancing

Exercise doesn’t have to be boring! Moving and grooving to music is another great way to burn some calories. Whether you decide to undergo formal training, join a group class, or just dance to your favorite songs at home, all are viable options. To make it cardio, monitor your heart rate and time your dance session.

Best strength training exercises for diabetics

If you aren’t already a heavy weight lifter, using weights can be intimidating. For women especially, strength training is often avoided for fear that it will make them look “manly.” This is further from the truth. Men, women, and everyone in-between benefits from building muscle mass.

Heavy weights and large machines may increase your risk of injury if you are unfamiliar with them. Instead of jumping straight to these, you can focus on using your own body weight and resistance bands. Little to no equipment is necessary and you can use both anywhere. Plus, you put less strain on your joints.

If you do decide to lift weights, have a spotter or personal trainer around to assist you and watch your form. Remember that the best exercises for diabetics are safe exercises.

Important reminders when exercising

  • Before starting any exercise or diet regimen, it is best to check with your doctor. They will be able to suggest certain exercises and let you know how often you should exercise.
  • Wear fitted but not constricting clothing. Avoid overly baggy or tight clothing.
  • Choose the right footwear.
  • Warm up, stretch, and cool down.
  • Stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout.
  • Eat a meal 30 to 60 minutes before exercising.
  • Check your blood sugar before, after, and throughout your workout, as needed or as prescribed by your doctor. 
  • Watch for signs of hypoglycemia (e.g. dizziness, irritability, hunger). You may bring candies to fix hypoglycemic episodes that may occur. 
  • It’s not a race; take breaks as needed!

Key Takeaways

In summary, these are some of the best exercises for diabetics. If you already have a workout routine that is comfortable for you, you can stick to that instead. Just keep an eye on your blood sugar and avoid injuries. Talk to a doctor before suddenly changing your diet and exercise routines.

Learn more about Type 2 Diabetes here

Disclaimer

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mia Dacumos, MD

Nephrology · Makati Medical Center


Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Updated Aug 15, 2022

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