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Exercise and type 2 diabetes

A healthy diet and more exercise are usually the first things you are encouraged to try in the early stages of type 2 diabetes. But even as the disease progresses, exercise remains a big part of managing diabetes. 

Regular exercise can help you control your blood sugar levels, lose weight and improve your physical and mental health.

Exercise tips when you have type 2 diabetes

Even a small increase in physical activity can make a difference when living with type 2 diabetes. If you have not been active for a while, start with just 5–10 minutes of exercise a day and then add a few minutes each week until you reach your goal.

When starting a new routine, find an activity that suits you. This will make you more likely to stick with it and enjoy the benefits of an active lifestyle.

Here are some ideas for low-impact activities to help you get started.  

  •  Stretching and balancing activities like Pilates increase flexibility and strength and can prepare you for other activities, like swimming.
  • Tai chi combines deep breathing and relaxation with gentle movement and is counted as a moderate exercise, which may help control type 2 diabetes.
  • Dancing is an aerobic activity - it raises your heart rate, burns calories and fat and can support cardiovascular health.
  • Exercising with weights can build strength and help with weight loss. If you are not experienced, do not try this without supervision. If you don’t have weights, you can use cans of food. Activities like gardening can also help with strength.
  • Walking or hiking are enjoyable ways to spend time with friends or family – just make sure you wear suitable shoes.
  • Swimming is easy on the joints and works all the main muscle groups. It can increase breathing and heart rate, which is good for heart health.

No matter which activity you pick, what is important is that you incorporate as much movement as you can into your day.  Just remember to exercise safely - check with your doctor before you start any exercise more strenuous than a walking programme.


  1. International Diabetes Federation. IDF Atlas 10th Edition, 2021. Available from: https://diabetesatlas.org/idfawp/resource-files/2021/07/IDF_Atlas_10th_Edition_2021.pdf. Last accessed: January 2022.
  2. Diabetes UK. Diabetes and exercise. Available from: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/exercise. Last accessed: January 2022.
  3. Diabetes UK. tai chi can help control type 2 diabetes. Available from: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news_landing_page/2008/tai-chi-can-help-control-type-2-diabetes. Last accessed: January 2022.
  4. Diabetes UK. Swimming when you have diabetes. Available from: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/exercise/swimming-diabetes. Last accessed: January 2022.

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