If you have Type 2 diabetes, you already know how important it is to think about what you eat. Diet plays a crucial role in managing blood glucose levels.
But it’s not the only important factor. Exercising regularly is also important.
Maybe you know theoretically that exercising regularly is important (after all, it is for everyone), but perhaps your doctor has never explained to you why it’s so vital for managing Type 2 diabetes.
Here, an endocrinologist breaks down the exercise-diabetes connection and discusses the best workout for people with Type 2 diabetes.
Why exercise is key
Dr. Ishita Prakash Patel is an endocrinologist specializing in diabetes at Texas Diabetes & Endocrinology. She explains that exercise plays a crucial role in managing Type 2 diabetes because working out increases glucose uptake from the blood, reducing blood sugar.
Certainly, it’s important for everyone to manage their blood sugar levels, but this is especially true for people with Type 2 diabetes. If blood sugar levels aren’t properly managed, it can lead to health complications, including kidney disease, stroke, poor circulation to the limbs and eye disease. It also increases the risk of early death.
“Ideally, it is good to have a consistent regimen of at least 30 minutes of exercise a day,” Patel says.
She points to the American Diabetes Association’s recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. While any type of movement is better than none, the guidelines emphasize that moderate-intensity exercise is best.
This is because it makes the heart beat faster and the body work harder. This will require the use of glucose for energy and, in turn, reduce blood sugar levels.
But it still leaves a big question: What type of exercise is best?
Best workout for Type 2 diabetes
If you aren’t used to exercising, getting started can feel overwhelming. Don’t be discouraged. What’s most important is to start moving your body.
“I recommend starting slowly, getting in at a gym or with a trainer, if possible, for motivation and a safe exercise regimen,” Patel says. “Even a daily walk or swim is better than nothing.”
Think about a physical activity that sounds enjoyable and is accessible to you. Is it a hip-hop dance class? A nightly walk where you can call a friend at the same time? Is it a swim aerobics class?
Patel says the best workout for Type 2 diabetes is an aerobic resistance workout, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
This type of workout involves several rounds of quick cardio in an effort to get heart rate up. These moves are often aerobic (like jumping jacks and high knees) and often involve resistance, whether it’s by using your body weight (like pushups) or dumbbells (i.e., lunges or squats while holding a weight).
Some gyms also offer cardio strength classes, which is essentially the same thing as HIIT.
Patel says that aerobic resistance workouts are best for managing Type 2 diabetes because they’re the most effective for improving stamina and helping weight loss in a healthy way.
Scientific studies do show that aerobic resistance truly can make a difference. Research shows that HIIT workouts can help with both glucose control and cardiovascular health in people with Type 2 diabetes.
This is especially important because Type 2 diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease, which is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S.
And here’s great news: A scientific study published in the journal Aging Clinical and Experimental Research found that people with Type 2 diabetes who regularly did HIIT workouts significantly lost weight and improved cardiovascular health.
Before starting a new exercise regimen, Patel says, it’s important to talk to your health care provider. They can offer guidance on what it’s important to keep in mind as you start your exercise journey so you can improve your health without inadvertently harming your body.
It also bears repeating that what’s most important is consistently moving your body in a way that you enjoy. If HIIT workouts or cardio strength classes aren’t enjoyable to you, odds are that you won’t stick with them.
Think about what type of exercise you’ll actually look forward to and then find ways to add it to your routine. By doing so, you’ll be taking a major step in your Type 2 diabetes management.