How Can Physical Activity Help People with Type 2 Diabetes?

If you have type 2 diabetes, it means that your body either doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't use what it does produce, properly. This results in high blood glucose levels that over time can be dangerous to your health.

Physical activity is an important part of managing type 2 diabetes because it helps to control blood glucose levels. Keeping good control of your blood glucose levels helps to prevent serious complications.

What Uncontrolled Blood Glucose Levels Can Do to your Health

Uncontrolled blood glucose levels can lead to:

  • heart disease and higher risk of stroke
  • kidney disease that may lead to dialysis
  • eye disease (diabetes is a leading cause of adult blindness)
  • nerve damage and risk of amputation
  • problems with erection (impotence)
  • mental confusion.

Physical Activity Can Help!

Being active lowers blood glucose levels, and may help you to:

  • reduce the amount of diabetes medication you need
  • improve your heart and lung function
  • reduce your risk of serious complications
  • control your weight
  • relieve tension or stress.

Helpful Types of Physical Activity

Aerobic activity (walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, etc.) and resistance activities (strength training, weight lifting) are important for people with type 2 diabetes. Try to do a mix of aerobic and resistance exercises.

How Much, How Often, How Hard?

At first, you can aim for about 10 minutes of activity at a time, a couple of times per day. As you get used to the level of activity, you can increase your amount of time or effort. Aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, over at least three separate days. Ideally, slowly build up your physical activity time until you are active up to four hours per week. This works out to a little over 30 minutes a day, every day.

Try to exercise at a moderate level. When you exercise at this level, you feel warm and breathe a bit faster, but don't get really sweaty or so out of breath that you can't talk. Here are some examples of moderate intensity physical activities:

  • brisk walking
  • cycling
  • raking leaves
  • swimming
  • dancing
  • water aerobics.

To help you keep active, choose activities that you enjoy and are accessible to you (e.g., easy to get to, within your budget) and that you can do with other people.

You may slowly progress to higher intensity activities (such as brisk walking up a hill or playing squash). Note: High intensity (hard effort) activity can help you to improve your health, but it can also worsen some types of conditions, so check with your healthcare provider if you want to do activities more vigorous than brisk walking.

Get Expert Advice

If you have diabetes and want to become more physically active, visit your healthcare provider or diabetes specialist. You can also consult a certified exercise physiologist in your area for more information on how to progress safely.

If you have eye problems, nerve damage or poor circulation, visit your healthcare provider before beginning to be active. Your healthcare provider can assess your condition and suggest the best types of activity for you. He or she can also check on your progress as you start to become active and as you progress to doing more intense activities.

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