At least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week can lower blood sugar levels
Alicia Grayson was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes four years ago. As in many black families, the disease has cut a wide swath through Grayson’s relatives. “My mother, one of 13 children, had it,” she says, “and 11 of her siblings had it. The old folks used to say it skips a generation, but I’m one of six, and four of us have diabetes, too.”
Grayson keeps her blood sugar controlled with pills and a healthy diet, unlike her mother and two of her siblings, who all must take insulin shots. And she walks three times a week, per her doctor’s orders. “I’m up to three miles each session,” she says.
Walking and other aerobic exercises are a great way to lower your blood sugar level if you have diabetes. The National Institutes of Health recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week. In fact, exercise is so important for diabetics that the American Diabetes Association (ADA) cautions that these patients miss no more than two days in a row.
These are the five best exercises for folks with diabetes:
- You can walk just about anywhere (Grayson does it in the gym at her church), so it is the most popular and most recommended exercise for people with diabetes. A casual stroll, however, won’t do the trick; you’ll need 30 minutes to an hour of brisk walking, three times each week.
- Swimming stretches and relaxes your muscles without putting pressure on your joints, which is great for people with diabetes. And studies show it burns calories, improves cholesterol levels and eases stress. For the best benefit, swim at least three times a week for at least 10 minutes and gradually increase the length of your workout. Tell the lifeguard you have diabetes before you start your laps.
- Yoga, which builds flexibility, strength and balance, is helpful for people with a variety of chronic conditions, including diabetes. The ADA suggests yoga may improve blood glucose levels due to improved muscle mass.
- Tai chi uses slow, smooth body movements to relax the mind and body—and helps with blood sugar control. A University of Florida study looked at two groups of women: a control group and an exercise group that practiced tai chi. The tai chi group showed significant improvement in blood sugar control.
- Increase physical activity, lower blood sugar and reduce stress through dancing. Even people with limited physical abilities can try this option with chair dancing, which incorporates the use of a chair for support. You can burn roughly 150 calories in 30 minutes by doing a vigorous two-step.
Remember: Talk to your doctor before starting any workout. Check your blood sugar before and after you exercise. And pay attention to your body. If you become lightheaded, dizzy or short of breath, stop exercising.