I know when I say the word “exercise” to patients newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, many tend to cringe and they want no part of it. But, it is important to know that when starting this significant component of diabetes self-management, ANY movement you do can help you get on track to a healthier life and help your overall diabetes control.

DiabetesCare.net recently published its Succeeding in Your First 30 Days with Type 2 Diabeteswhich is an excellent resource for more information about activity, but this information here can help get you started.

Why Is Activity Important?
Because it is a key component of diabetes management, in addition to healthy eating, blood glucose monitoring, and medicines. All movement can help our muscles use sugar better (even when we are not moving), leading to better blood sugar control.

In addition, regular activity(1):

  • Burns calories and can help with weight loss
  • May improve sleep
  • Improves balance and can help prevent falls
  • Increases energy overall and helps you from feeling sluggish during the day
  • Keeps joints flexible
  • Reduces blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Reduces symptoms of depression and improved quality of life
  • Relieves stress
  • Strengthens the heart and improves circulation
  • Strengthens muscles and bones

How Much Activity Does Someone with Type 2 Need?
According to the guidelines, people with type 2 diabetes should be active at least 150 minutes per week doing “moderate to vigorous aerobic activity.” This includes anything that helps make your heart beat faster, including:

  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming
  • Basketball
  • Tennis
  • Exercise classes

The guidelines recommend that the activity should be spread out during at least three days per week with no more than two consecutive days between some form of activity.

In addition to aerobic activity, people with diabetes should do resistance or strength training at least two to three days per week. These activities will help make muscles stronger and they include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Elastic band exercises
  • Weight machines

The guidelines also suggest adding flexibility and stretching activities, but they should not be in place of aerobic activity or strengthening. Yoga is one form of flexibility and stretching.

Wow! Big goals, especially that 150 minutes of activity a week, huh?  So where do you start? Where you can, of course!

If you are not doing any physical activity at all, start by walking a few minutes per day and build up from there. Now, this amount will certainly not have much of an impact on your diabetes control and overall health, but by starting small, you can then build up to the goals seen above. So, walking the dog, working in the yard, parking a little further away from the store to increase walking, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, cleaning the house, and washing the car all count as activity.

For the many patients that I have seen who are not active at all, we start with specific goals. For example, we may start with including 5-10 minutes of any kind of movement everyday. If they find that they reach that for a week, they will then increase to 10-15 minutes everyday for the next week. Depending on how they are doing, they will increase by 5 minutes every 1-4 weeks until they get to 150 minutes per week. At this point, we will begin to add strengthening at least 2 times or week. Using cans for weights is a good place to start and doing arm exercises with the cans or elastic bands during commercials. From there, if they want to lose weight, which many do, we try to achieve 210 minutes of activity per week (30 minutes per day) and continue to add 3-5 minutes every day to reach 60 minutes per day.

While the guidelines for how much activity we should be doing may be daunting, starting small and working your way up will pay off with better health and better diabetes control!

And as a reminder, before anyone starts any activity program more than brisk walking, it is a good idea to talk to your healthcare professional to see if they need to do any tests to make sure it is safe for you to do other activities.

For more great information on exercise, read DiabetesCare.net’s Succeeding in Your First 30 Days with Type 2 Diabetes guide by going here.


1) Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement. Diabetes Care, 2010.