Tying shoelaces and getting ready for some aerobic exercises and resistance training.

Why Exercise is Important for People with Type 2 Diabetes

Diligently sticking to a meal plan and taking medicine as prescribed will keep diabetes in check. But exercise is an equally powerful weapon against the disease.

Research shows that physical activity is a crucial part of the treatment plan, particularly for people with Type 2 diabetes, because it helps to keep blood glucose levels (blood sugar levels) in the healthy range and deter long-term complications such as heart problems.

According to Dr Jason Chia Kok Kiang, senior consultant and head of Sports Medicine and Surgery Clinic at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the benefits of exercise on blood glucose levels can also last for an extended period after each workout session.

In fact, the American Diabetes Association noted that physical activity can lower blood glucose for more than 24 hours after exercise by making the body more sensitive to insulin. Of course, as with every health condition, there are some things to take note of before launching into a workout. Here are five tips on exercising right for someone with diabetes.

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5 Exercise Tips for People with Diabetes

#1 Choose Exercises That Suit You Best

Exercise has beneficial effects at various levels, no matter which workout you choose. “During exercise, working muscles take up glucose from the bloodstream. With more prolonged aerobic exercise, such as cardio training, this utilisation of glucose can help to lower blood glucose levels,” says Dr Chia. Meanwhile, muscle contraction during both aerobic and resistance exercise i.e. strength training/weight training also helps to increase the ability of muscles to transport glucose from the bloodstream.

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#2 Tailor Workouts to Your Condition

Young woman doing yoga outdoors to lose weight or maintain healthy body weight.

In general, brisk walking and daily activities are suitable for most patients with diabetes. But since the condition is sometimes accompanied by associated illnesses such as hypertension, diabetic retinopathy, and peripheral vascular disease, it is a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any rigorous exercise programme.

Explains Dr Chia: “Consulting your doctor is useful to evaluate the control of diabetes, as well as to diagnose possible complications. For example, if you have decreased sensation in your feet, you may need to take extra care so as to avoid foot ulcers. In addition, modification of medication may be necessary as blood glucose control improves with exercise.”

However, anyone whose diabetes is managed well and does not suffer from complications such as cardiovascular disease can exercise at high intensity, he says.

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#3 Aim for 150 minutes a week

How much to exercise each week? Dr Chia advises sticking to regular exercise sessions for maximum effect — at least thrice a week for a total of 150 minutes, with preferably “no more than two consecutive days between each session of moderate-intensity”.

He also suggests a combination of aerobic activity and resistance training for an all-rounded workout.

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#4 Eat Regular-Sized Meals Regularly

Cook your own healthy meals and manage diabetes well.

According to the American Diabetes Association, most people won’t need to add extra carbohydrates to their meal plan unless they are exercising for more than an hour at a time. Maximise energy for physical activity by sticking to regular, healthy meals that include a balance of non-starchy vegetables and fruit, whole grains, low or non-fat dairy, and lean meat.

If you have recently started an exercise regimen and are on medication that increases the risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) or have blood glucose levels that can change quickly, bring along a sports drink or 15 to 20 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates (such as glucose tablets) when you work out, so you can correct your sugar level quickly should it fall. Wait 15 to 20 minutes and check your blood sugar level again.

If you still experience light-headedness, shakiness, hunger or confusion — all signs of hypoglycaemia — repeat the treatment.

Remember to eat within 30 minutes to two hours of finishing your workout and don’t skip meals, as doing so will increase the chances of low blood glucose occurring.

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#5 Increase Daily Movement to Control Your Diabetes

If you find yourself saying “I’m too busy to exercise”, Dr Chia has this advice for you: “Make time to exercise to control your diabetes. On top of that, increasing daily movement — for example your step count — is to be encouraged.”

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