6 Great Exercises for People With Diabetes

This content originally appeared on Everyday Health. Republished with permission.

By Jessica Migala

Medically Reviewed by Kacy Church, MD

Do you get enough exercise? If you’re like many Americans, the answer is no — and that can be especially true for people with diabetes. In fact, only about 40 percent of people with type 2 diabetes participate in regular physical activity, notes a study in the World Journal of Diabetes. And that’s a shame, because working out can help increase insulin action and keep blood sugar levels in check, says Sheri Colberg, PhD, founder of the Diabetes Motion Academy in Santa Barbara, California.

Not to mention, exercise may help your body fend off illnesses by ramping up immune system activity, according to MedlinePlus. Boosting your immunity with exercise, as well as managing your blood sugar, can help you stay healthy.

Exercise also helps you lose weight and improve balance. That’s important, since people who are obese are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, according to the Obesity Action Coalition. Among adults with type 2 diabetes, having a body mass index (BMI) of over 35 (categorized as obese) increases the risk of having balance problems and falling, according to a study.

“I fully recommend that anyone over 40 with diabetes include balance training as part of their weekly routine, at least two or three days per week,” says Dr. Colberg. “It can be as simple as practicing balancing on one leg at a time, or more complex, like tai chi exercises. Lower-body and core resistance exercises also double as balance training.”

People with type 2 diabetes should aim to complete 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The HHS also recommends a twice-weekly resistance training session, an amount that will protect against heart disease by reducing high blood pressure, aiding in weight loss, and lowering cholesterol and hemoglobin A1C levels (a three-month average of blood sugar levels).

Here are six great workouts you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. Be sure to check with your healthcare team before beginning any exercise regimen, and go slowly at first. Over time, you can increase the length and intensity of your routine.

1 — Brisk Walking Is a Mild Activity With Major Benefits

If you have diabetes and don’t have an exercise routine in place, start with walking. “Walking is easy for people to do,” Colberg says, “All you need is a good pair of shoes and somewhere to go. Walking is probably one of the most prescribed activities for people with type 2 diabetes.” Brisk walking, done at a pace that raises the heart rate, is considered a moderate-intensity exercise, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Walking at a brisk clip 30 minutes per day five days per week will help you reach the recommended goal of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.

RELATED: What People With Diabetes Must Know Before Starting an Exercise Plan

2 — Tai Chi Reduces Stress and Improves Balance

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition. Participants flow through a series of movements performed in a slow and relaxed manner along with deep breathing, according to the Mayo Clinic. A meta-analysis in the Journal of Diabetes Research concluded that tai chi is an effective way for people with type 2 diabetes to manage their blood glucose and A1C levels. Tai chi is ideal for people with diabetes because it provides fitness and stress reduction in one.

Tai chi also improves balance and may reduce nerve damage or neuropathy, which is a common complication among people with diabetes whose blood sugar isn’t well managed — though the latter benefit remains unproven, says Colberg. (One study looked at the effect of tai chi on people who have peripheral neuropathy (PN), or nerve damage that can be caused by chronically high blood sugar. Researchers found that the exercise did not cure PN, but it did improve balance, flexibility, and strength).

Still, Colberg emphasizes that working on your balance daily is a critical component of staying on your feet as you age and living well and independently throughout your lifetime. “If you don’t do tai chi, incorporate some other balance exercises into your weekly routine to reduce your risk of falling,” says Colberg.

3 — Weight Training Is Necessary for Maintaining Muscle

“I can’t say enough about the benefits of weight training, not just for people with diabetes but for everyone,” Colberg says. Weight training builds muscle mass, important for those with type 2 diabetes. “If you lose muscle mass, you have a lot harder time maintaining your blood sugar,” she says.

Plan for resistance exercise or weight training at least twice a week as part of your diabetes management plan, recommends the HHS. Regardless of your experience, you can safely add resistance exercise into your routine, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). This includes exercise done with free weights, machines, or bands using a resistance that feels challenging; focus on doing two to three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, the ACSM recommends.

4 — Yoga Reduces Stress for Blood Sugar Control

Say om: Like tai chi, research shows that if you have diabetes, yoga can help reduce stress and manage the condition, according to a review of research. “When stress levels go higher, so do your blood sugar levels,” says Colberg.

One of the advantages of yoga as an exercise is that you can do it as often as you like. “The more the better,” she says. A study in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health concluded that exercise helps lessen depressive symptoms in adults with type 2 diabetes.

5 — Swimming Is a Low-Impact Exercise That Feels Good

Swimming is another aerobic exercise — and an ideal one for people with type 2 diabetes because it doesn’t put pressure on your joints. “Being buoyed by the water is less stressful on your body compared to walking or jogging,” Colberg says. Type 2 diabetes can lead to foot complications, including neuropathy, says the American Diabetes Association. Because neuropathy can lead to loss of feeling in the foot, you can purchase water shoes to protect your feet in the pool.

RELATED: The 6 Best Low-Impact Exercises for People With Diabetes

6 — Bicycling Is a Convenient Way to Burn Calories

Bicycling is also a form of aerobic exercise, says the HHS, one that makes your heart stronger and your lungs function better, and is a calorie burner to boot. Just riding a few times per week as a casual mode of transportation was found to reduce the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and triglyceride levels, according to a study.

To cycle, you don’t even need to leave your house: A stationary bike can be helpful because you can do it inside, no matter the weather.

Everyday Health follows strict sourcing guidelines to ensure the accuracy of its content, outlined in our editorial policy. We use only trustworthy sources, including peer-reviewed studies, board-certified medical experts, patients with lived experience, and information from top institutions.


Hamasaki H. Daily Physical Activity and Type 2 Diabetes: A Review. World Journal of Diabetes. June 25, 2016.
Exercise and Immunity. MedlinePlus. January 29, 2022.
Herrera-Rangel AB, Aranda-Moreno C, Mantilla-Ochoa T, et al. Influence of the Body Mass Index on the Occurrence of Falls in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice. September–October 2015.
Physical Activity Guidelines: Current Guidelines. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. August 24, 2021.
Examples of Moderate and Vigorous Physical Activity. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Stress Management. Mayo Clinic. October 8, 2022.
Chao M, Wang C, Dong X, Ding M. The Effects of Tai Chi on Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Diabetes Research. July 5, 2018.
Hermanns M, Haas BK, Rath L, et al. Impact of Tai Chi on Peripheral Neuropathy Revisited: A Mixed-Methods Study. Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine. January–December 2018.
ACSM Guidelines for Strength Training. American College of Sports Medicine. July 31, 2019.
Raveendran AV, Deshpandae A, Joshi SR. Therapeutic Role of Yoga in Type 2 Diabetes. Endocrinology and Metabolism. September 2018.
Craike MJ, Mosely K, Browne JL, et al. Associations Between Physical Activity and Depressive Symptoms by Weight Status Among Adults With Type 2 Diabetes: Results From Diabetes MILES-Australia. Journal of Physical Activity & Health. March 2017.
Diabetes Foot Complications. American Diabetes Association.
Berger AT, Qian XL, Pereira MA. Associations Between Bicycling for Transportation and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors Among Minneapolis–Saint Paul Area Commuters: A Cross-Sectional Study in Working-Age Adults. American Journal of Health Promotion. March 2018.

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