To Prevent Diabetes Complications, a Little Bit of Exercise Is Better Than None

women exercising at home

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Key Takeaways

  • A meta-analysis found that getting some physical activity helps reduce the risk of complications from diabetes.
  • Getting some exercise helps reduce complications, but the level of risk reduction increases as you exercise more.
  • Diabetes care specialists recommend doing at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

If you have diabetes, even setting aside a little time for exercise can help avoid complications such as heart disease, strokes, and kidney damage. The more you exercise, though, the further you can reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications, according to a new study published in Diabetes Care.

Regular physical activity has long been a cornerstone of managing type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly.

Researchers in Germany conducted a meta-analysis of 31 studies and found that high levels of physical activity were associated with a 16% risk reduction in heart disease, 24% in heart failure, and 26% for stroke. But even at levels below the recommended amounts, physical activity still showed benefits for people with diabetes.

The researchers also noted that other studies have indicated a more significant risk reduction than seen in this analysis.

Jessica Grogan, MS, CDCES, director of community engagement and impact at the American Diabetes Association, said that the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week might seem daunting for some.

“However, by acknowledging that there are benefits to be had even with less than the recommendation, it can inspire individuals to take those first steps and find an exercise routine they enjoy and safely build up to the recommended 150 minutes per week,” Grogan told Verywell via an email.

Bradley Denmeade, DNP, RN, CDCES, a diabetes care specialist at DukeHealth in Durham, NC, said he would prefer his patients with diabetes do “a minimum of 150 minutes a week, just to keep things steady.”

But many of his patients have additional conditions that discourage them from exercising. But for those who would like to try and make an effort, Denmeade recommends doing at least 15 to 20 minutes of moderate exercise per day. These activities can be as simple as taking a brisk walk, pushing a lawn mower, or riding a bicycle.

What This Means For You

If you have diabetes, the ADA recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. You can still reap some health benefits even if you exercise at levels below the recommended amounts.

2 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.
  1. Rietz M, Lehr A, Mino E, et al. Physical activity and risk of major diabetes-related complications in individuals with diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Diabetes Care. 2022;45(12):3101-3111. doi:10.2337/dc22-0886

  2. American Diabetes Association. Weekly exercise targets.

By Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette has over 30 years' experience writing about health and medicine. She is the former managing editor of Drug Topics magazine.