The Best Exercises for Diabetics

Do having fun and exercising have to be mutually exclusive? No way!

If you find a form of fitness that you enjoy, you're much more likely to stick with it than with something that bores you. And you'll be doing your health a huge favor.

Exercise is great for lowering blood sugar and helping with weight control, says Caroline Bohl, MS, RD, CDE, of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center in New York City.

"Exercise can also help with controlling your appetite," she says.

"Just about any exercise has positive benefits for diabetics," says Howard Wilson, MD, an endocrinologist at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas. If you're pressed for time and don't know which type of exercise to choose, he advises, go with a type that will get your heart rate up.

"Diabetes affects the heart," Wilson says, "so cardiac-related exercises are very important."

Here are some tips to consider before you get moving:

  • Go on the treadmill or the elliptical trainer, Wilson says. Walking is ideal, too, since it doesn't stress the joints, and swimming is a fantastic low-impact form of exercise for just about everyone.
  • Yoga not only is a great form of exercise, it can help with relaxation as well. "And if you are trying to eat a better diet, yoga can help you feel motivated," Bohl says.
  • As for how much exercise you should do in order to stay in shape, aim for 150 minutes a week or 30 minutes a day, Wilson says. "But an hour a day is much more beneficial," he adds. If that sounds like a lot, bear in mind that you don't have to get in that whole hour at once. Three brisk 20-minute walks have the same health-promoting effect as one hour-long one, so consider getting out in the fresh air in the morning, at lunchtime, and then for a stroll in the evening.
  • If you are joining a gym or fitness center, meet with a member of the staff first to get their recommendations for what form of exercises they'd recommend, and to familiarize yourself with the equipment.
  • If you have peripheral neuropathy, consider swimming and biking since treadmills can be difficult to use when you have numbness in your feet or your hands. "If you can't grip weights because you can't feel your hands due to the neuropathy, swimming is good for you and very benign," Bohl says.
  • If you have retinopathy, discuss exercising with your doctor first, Bohl suggests. "Some forms of exercise, even strength training, can cause your body to tense up and exacerbate problems with the eyes," she says. "The doctor may recommend an exercise that does not cause a lot of exertion."
  • And if you're new to exercise, definitely get checked out by your doctor first.