Why should you be more active if you have type 2 diabetes? What counts as activity? It doesn't have to be difficult, structured exercise. Let's look at the benefits of moving more each day.
One of the best things you can do to manage your type 2 diabetes is be physically active.
Often, it’s also one of the more difficult things to do.
We’re given a lot of rules about how we should exercise: Find 30 minutes for exercise nearly every day of the week. Make it a mix of exercise that makes your heart beat faster and your muscles grow stronger. Find some kind of activity that you like, or at least don’t totally hate. Okay, go!
Here’s the thing: You don’t have to follow all of these exercise rules perfectly to get some benefit. You don’t even have to exercise for 30 minutes in one stretch. Every bit of physical activity helps. Start with where you’re at and add to that.
Why Be More Active with Type 2 Diabetes?
Being physically active improves your health in a number of ways. Physical activity supports our body’s endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Physical activity also reduces anxiety, depression, and improves cognitive function.
For people with type 2 diabetes being active also does these two very important things:
Improved insulin sensitivity means that your cells can use the insulin in your body more effectively, whether that insulin comes from your pancreas or an injection. Nearly any exercise has the potential to improve insulin sensitivity. But, a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training seems to be most effective at increasing insulin sensitivity.
Regular physical activity, particularly aerobic activity, improves circulation, lung function, heart capacity, and immunity. People with diabetes who regularly exercise (at a moderate to vigorous pace) substantially reduce their likelihood of developing heart disease. Additionally, regular exercise can lead to lowered blood pressure, reduced anxiety, better sleep quality, and more effective body weight management.
How to Get More Active
Start with where you’re at.
Can’t take 10,000 steps in a day? Can’t bench press your body weight? Can’t quite reach your toes? That’s okay. Focus on what you can do. Then, ask yourself how can I easily add more activity to my day?
Be less efficient when you move from place to place.
Take a route that is less direct and requires covering more ground. Use the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator — even if it’s only for one story. Park further away than you do normally. You might just see something new and interesting on the way.
Build activity breaks into your day.
It can take as little as five minutes of stretching your legs, or some other muscles, to get the blood flowing. Set a reminder alarm to go off two or three (or more) times throughout your workday. Taking an activity break several times a day not only gives your body a chance to move, it also gives you a chance to clear your mind.
As kids we were often told to be still. But being still for long stretches of time is not good for our health. Tap that foot. Squirm in your chair. Make a grand gesture with your arms. It’s all movement. And it all helps keep the blood flowing and the limbs flexible.
Lean into the activities you enjoy.
Do the activities you like doing. Physical activity shouldn’t be torture or a punishment. You don’t have to run, lift weights, or go to the gym. Try social dancing, tai chi, or pickleball. Choosing activities that you enjoy make it more likely you’ll stick with it — and want to do more.
Add a little bit more activity each day.
To benefit from physical activity you have to keep up the practice, meaning you have to be active each day. Add a little to your activity each day (whether that’s measured in time, distance, or resistance) to improve your endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.
Rethink What Physical Activity Means to You
Physical activity supports our overall health by improving our endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. For people with type 2 diabetes physical activity also supports more effective glucose management by improving insulin sensitivity.
As a starting point, set a goal to be more active than you are currently. Start with small changes. Add some steps, stretch breaks, or other physical activity that you enjoy. Keep track of how you’re doing. A journal or a fitness tracker can be helpful. Check in with yourself regularly to see how you’re doing. And when you see improvement, whether it be more steps on average taken each day or being able to touch your toes, recognize your achievement. Celebrate!