How Much Exercise Is Enough if You Have Type 2 Diabetes?


overweight-woman-treadmill
People with diabetes who have a workout buddy are more likely to exercise than those who go solo.
(DYNAMIC GRAPHICS/JUPITER)
If you have type 2 diabetes, you should aim for about 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week, according to the American Diabetes Association. However, if you're like many newly diagnosed type 2 diabetics, you may not have exercised in a long time—if ever.

If that's the case, it's fine to start slow and work up. In fact, until you get a feel for how exercise affects your blood sugar (and until you get your doctor's clearance), it might be a good idea for most newly diagnosed patients to take it slow.

Aerobics or strength training?
The best type of exercise is one that you will do. However, a 2007 study suggested that a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training was better than either alone.

The study included just over 250 adults with type 2 diabetes. All participants except for those in the control group worked out three times a week for six months. The group that did resistance training improved, as did the aerobic exercise group (both had a drop of roughly half a percentage point in hemoglobin A1C).

But the best results "went to participants who did both strength training and aerobic exercise," says Ron Sigal, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, and the lead author of the study. That group had about a 1% drop in hemoglobin A1C compared to their sedentary peers.

"That's often the result we hope for with medication," says George Griffing, MD, professor of medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Some approaches work better than others
People who shoot for a specific goal (10,000 steps per day on a pedometer is a common one) tend to lose more weight than those who do not—even if they don't necessarily reach that goal.

But buying a pedometer alone may not be enough to get you working out.

"It's not about gadgets, it's about relationships," says Joseph LeMaster, MD, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine in Columbia, Mo.

Other research has shown that people who work out in a group or a class are more likely to succeed than those who do not. But like all aspects of type 2 diabetes, you'll need to find out what works best for you.

Exercise doesn't mean you have to walk on a treadmill at a gym, says Gerald Bernstein, MD, director of the diabetes management program at the Gerald J. Friedman Diabetes Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "If you work up a sweat raking leaves, or vacuuming the carpets, that's beneficial exercise," he says.

Just don't overestimate the workout you'll get from daily chores alone. (Use this interactive tool to see how many calories you burn with daily activity.)

Walking 10,000 steps per day is equal to five miles; most people whose jobs have them largely sitting at desks only take about 4,000 to 5,000 steps each day. So reaching that goal may require fitting in some long walks nearly every day.

Last Updated: April 08, 2008

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