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Your Guide to Treating Diabetes

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8 Exercise Tips to Reduce Heart Disease Risk in Type 2 Diabetics

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jennifer Larson on January 30, 2021
  • senior man lifting weights outside
    Improve your heart health with exercise.
    People with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. That means having diabetes increases your risk of developing heart disease. The good news is that regular exercise can improve your heart health and lower your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke. If you’re wondering how to start, consider a few exercise tips to help you reduce your risk of heart disease while managing your type 2 diabetes.
  • Doctor and patient
    1. Check with your doctor first.
    If you’re sedentary right now, don’t launch yourself right off the couch and onto a treadmill. It’s crucial to talk with your doctor or your diabetes educator about the nuances of exercising with type 2 diabetes. You need to be aware of how your body reacts to the activities you’ve chosen to do—and how your blood glucose levels respond, too. You’ll want to develop a plan that will take into account any surges or drops in blood sugar.
  • checking-blood-sugar-with-glucometer
    2. Plan to check your blood sugar levels.
    How do you find out how your blood glucose levels respond to physical activity? You check them! Plan to check your levels before and after exercising so you can start to see any patterns developing. If you take insulin, you’ll have to be extra vigilant because you’re at increased risk for hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels.
  • Couple biking on Austin bike path
    3. Get your sweat on.
    The bottom line is this: to get the most benefit, you need to do some aerobic exercise that will get your heart rate up.  Your heart needs that aerobic exercise to get stronger and work more effectively and efficiently. Your goal should be to log at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise every single week. You can spread it out over several days, but make sure you sustain your sessions for least ten minutes at a time. Pick a favorite activity you’re likely to stick with, whether it’s biking, walking, swimming, or dancing.
  • weight-machine-leg-lift
    4. Build up your strength.
    Exercise isn’t just about aerobic activities, though. You also need to embrace resistance training, which is another term for strength training. With this type of exercise, you move your muscles against some opposing force. Think: lifting weights. Strength training can also include exercises that involve using your body’s own weight as resistance, like push-ups or squats, or using stretchy bands called resistance bands. Experts strongly recommend incorporating strength training into your life on a regular basis—ideally, at least twice a week on non-consecutive days.
  • Man exercising
    5. Don’t replace the weights with a yoga mat.
    Flexibility training sessions, which can include activities like yoga and Tai Chi, are a great addition to your exercise routine. But you shouldn’t replace your aerobic and resistance training sessions with flexibility training. You really need that aerobic and resistance work to achieve the greatest benefits.
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  • woman-doing-sit-ups-with-trainer
    6. Hire a trainer.
    Especially if you’re a novice, there’s a lot to learn—and a lot to remember. You don’t want to risk injury, especially if you’re just getting started or you’re adding an activity with which you have little experience. A professional trainer, especially someone experienced at working with type 2 diabetics, can help you plan your workouts to be both safe and effective.
  • nurse-explaining-diabetes-injectable
    7. Prepare for the possibility of low blood glucose levels.
    You’re exercising to improve your overall health, including your cardiovascular system. But you can’t forget that you have diabetes, too. It’s possible to experience low blood sugar levels during or after exercising,  especially if you exercise for a long period of time or you take insulin. Take a cue from the Boy Scouts and be prepared. You may need to eat a snack before exercising, and you might need to adjust your medication. Keep a stash of glucose tablets with you, too, in case your blood sugar levels drop quickly and you need some fast carbs.
  • african-american-man-leaning-against-wall-smiling
    8. Don’t give up.
    Your heart will get stronger and healthier over time if you keep up your exercise routine. It will pump blood more efficiently throughout your body and provide oxygen more effectively. You’ll feel better and stronger. But it’s a journey, and it will take time and perseverance to get there. Don’t get discouraged if you feel like you’re stagnating. Your doctor and your trainer may be able to provide some suggestions for ways to continue making progress.
Type 2 Diabetes & Exercise | Diabetes & Heart Health
  1. Blood Glucose and Exercise. American Diabetes Association.
  2. Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes. American Heart Association.
  3. Chudyk A and Petrella RJ. Effects of Exercise on Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes: A meta-analysis. Diabetes Care 2011 May; 34(5): 1228-1237.
  4. Diabetes Diet, Eating, & Physical Activity. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
  5. Diabetes, Heart Disease, and You. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  6. Diabetic Heart Disease. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
  7. Dugan JA. Exercise recommendations for patients with type 2 diabetes. Journal of the American Academy of PAs: January 2016 - Volume 29 - Issue 1 - p 13–18.
  8. Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement. Diabetes Care. 2010 Dec; 33(12): e147–e167.
  9. Taking Care of Your Diabetes Means Taking Care of Your Heart. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
  10. What is Diabetes, and Am I at Risk? Know Diabetes by Heart. American Heart Association.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 30
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.