Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes

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Type 2 diabetes is a health condition in which the body has difficulty processing glucose (sugar) and regulating blood sugar levels. This leads to high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), which can cause other health complications. Regular exercise helps moderate blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. In addition to helping with blood sugar levels and managing type 2 diabetes, 20 to 25 minutes of exercise per day can improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels, aid in weight loss if needed, and increase happiness.

Learn about type 2 diabetes and exercise, how exercise impacts insulin and blood sugar, recommendations, and more.

Exercise equipment and diabetes blood sugar monitoring tools.

Towfiqu Barbhuiya / EyeEm / Getty Images

How Does Exercise Impact Insulin and Blood Sugar?

The body breaks down everything you consume to make glucose. A hormone called insulin helps glucose enter cells. When a person has diabetes, the body does not respond as well to insulin.

Muscles use glucose as energy when they're exercising. This helps to lower blood sugar levels and is why it can be helpful to take a walk after each meal. The processes the body goes through during exercise also help insulin work more effectively.

Benefits of Exercise for Type 2 Diabetes

Exercise provides numerous benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. One of the main benefits is the body's improved response to insulin, or less insulin resistance. Exercise also helps to reduce the risk of diabetic health complications by lowering blood sugar levels and can be a key component in reversing a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

Benefits of Exercise If You Have Type 2 Diabetes

  • Reduces insulin resistance
  • Improves sleep and mood
  • Lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), considered bad cholesterol
  • Raises high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), consdered good cholesterol
  • Promotes weight loss
  • Improves quality of life
  • Regulates blood pressure

Exercise Recommendations

It is recommended that people with type 2 diabetes exercise for a weekly minimum of 150 minutes (2.5 hours). You could break this down into 20 to 25 minutes at a time daily or spend more time per day with no more than two days off in a row.

Anyone not used to exercise should start with low-intensity options, such as walking, biking, or swimming. It can be a good goal to build up to moderate-level exercise options and to focus on working all major muscle groups.

Major muscle groups to include in exercise regimens include:

  • Abdomen
  • Arms
  • Back
  • Chest
  • Hips
  • Legs
  • Shoulders

Exercise, Diabetes, and Pregnancy

Every pregnancy is different, and diabetes while pregnant may come with unique risks. If you are pregnant and have diabetes, talk to your healthcare provider about safe exercise options.

Best Types of Exercise

The best types of exercise for people with type 2 diabetes depend on the person, their regular activity level, and personal preferences. Aerobic exercise options, such as walking, biking, and swimming, help to improve insulin resistance by increasing insulin sensitivity.

Resistance exercise options, such as lifting weights, body-weight exercises, and suspension or resistance training, help to increase lean body mass, decrease fat content, and improve insulin resistance. It is important to do a combination of both aerobic and resistance exercises while choosing activities that are enjoyable so that you're able to maintain it long term.

Type 2 Diabetes Exercise Examples

  • Active hobbies (i.e., dancing or gardening)
  • Cardio machines
  • Fitness classes
  • Jogging, walking, biking, or swimming
  • Resistance or suspension training (including weight lifting and body-weight exercises)
  • Team sports
  • Yoga

Risks of Exercise

While there are many benefits of exercise if you have type 2 diabetes, there are also risks. It is important to consider your abilities, start slowly, and talk with your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise routine. It's essential to monitor your blood sugar levels, and a good idea to do so before and during exercise to ensure it is at least 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Diabetes may also lead to other health complications, like osteoporosis, high blood pressure, or heart disease, which increase the risks of exercise.

Exercise-Induced Hypoglycemia

Blood sugar may drop with exercise. This means you may feel exhausted or sick during or after physical activity. Make sure to check blood sugar levels and rest until you get a reading of at least 100 mg/dL. A snack can help to increase blood sugar levels when this happens.


Type 2 diabetes is a health condition that affects the body's ability to process glucose, resulting in high blood sugar levels. Exercise can help to lower blood sugar levels and increase sensitivity to insulin. The benefits of exercise for people with type 2 diabetes include reduced insulin resistance, better blood sugar regulation, weight management, reduced risk of diabetes-related complications, and more.

People with diabetes should exercise at least 150 minutes per week, combining aerobic and resistance exercises. There are risks to exercising, however. It is important to consult your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program, ease into it, and consider your abilities when choosing specific activities.

A Word From Verywell

Being diagnosed and living with type 2 diabetes can be challenging; however, it is a treatable condition. In addition to possible medications and changes in diet, exercise can help improve how the body processes food and regulates blood sugar levels. If you or someone you know is experiencing type 2 diabetes, talk to a healthcare professional about safely including exercise in your treatment plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are there exercises you should not do with type 2 diabetes?

    It is important to stay safe while exercising and start with low-intensity options, such as walking, biking, or swimming, before moving to medium- and high-intensity options. Since fluctuating blood sugar levels can make it challenging to maintain balance, people with diabetes should only exercise when feeling well and choose activities that do not require jumping, climbing, or an increased risk of falling.

  • Is type 2 diabetes reversible with diet and exercise?

    Yes, type 2 diabetes is reversible with diet and exercise. Avoiding sugary and processed foods; eating the right quantities of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods; and exercising regularly all help the body lose weight and better regulate blood sugar levels. However, it is important to talk with a healthcare professional to determine if medications are needed.

  • What are the best exercise options for people with type 2 diabetes and obesity?

    The best exercise options for people with type 2 diabetes and obesity depend on the person, their abilities, their initial activity level, and personal preferences. Anyone not used to exercise should start with low-intensity options, such as walking or swimming. The best choices are activities a person enjoys so that they will stick with them long term.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Type 2 diabetes.

  3. American Diabetes Association. Type 2 diabetes.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get active!

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  6. American Diabetes Association. Why does exercise sometimes raise blood glucose (blood sugar)?

  7. Hallberg SJ, Gershuni VM, Hazbun TL, et al. Reversing type 2 diabetes: a narrative review of the evidenceNutrients. 2019;11(4):766.  doi: 10.3390/nu11040766

  8. Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Yardley JE, et al. Physical activity/exercise and diabetes: a position statement of the American Diabetes AssociationDiabetes Care. 2016;39(11):2065-2079. doi:10.2337/dc16-1728

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  11. American Diabetes Association. Exercising with diabetes complications.

By Ashley Olivine, Ph.D., MPH
Dr. Ashley Olivine is a health psychologist and public health professional with over a decade of experience serving clients in the clinical setting and private practice. She has also researched a wide variety psychology and public health topics such as the management of health risk factors, chronic illness, maternal and child wellbeing, and child development.