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Physical Activity for Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a common disease in millions of Americans that influences the way the body processes blood sugar (glucose). In individuals with type 2 diabetes, the body isn’t able to produce or respond to insulin — the hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar levels.

Physical activity (PA) plays an important role in preventing and managing type 2 diabetes. In fact, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity PA per week for individuals with type 2 diabetes. That means about 20 minutes of PA per day¹. For type 2 diabetes patients with busy schedules, these 20-30 minutes of PA don’t have to be all at once. Instead, one can spread this time throughout the day by finding 5 minute breaks to take the stairs, walk to the restroom, or walk to lunch.² In any case, some activity is better than none as moderate-intensity PA burns off 3 to 6 times more energy than sitting.

Why is PA so important if you have type 2 diabetes? Several studies show consistent PA can reduce the risk of the disease while also decreasing the risk of death and improving insulin resistance. Additionally, it serves as a mood booster, helps with weight loss, increases energy levels, can help with relaxation, and improves the quality of sleep.

There are three main types of activity: aerobic, resistance, and flexibility training. Aerobic PA includes brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, and even gardening! Resistance training, often associated with weights, ranges from free weights to squats to pushups. Flexibility training is a more relaxed form of PA involving stretching activities such as yoga or tai chi. It’s important to realize how many activities can be physical activities. Because of this variety, you can tailor your daily PA to your lifestyle (age, PA barriers, pre-existing conditions, daily routine etc.) and can also have numerous activities to look forward to on different days.¹

PA is easier said than done. That’s why it’s important to consider the role of motivational factors in your routine. For example, incorporating a daily or weekly step count goal might serve as a great motivational factor for some. If a physician simply prescribes a step count for their patient and finds ways to incorporate PA into their patient’s daily routine, it can increase the patient’s daily PA.³ Additionally, having a daily phone or message reminder telling you how many steps you need to achieve on a given day can make it easier for a person to be physically active rather than simply being told to move more.*4 

The use of a smartphone or smartwatch app can be a helpful tool to give these daily reminders. Apps can also help encourage and reinforce positivity in individuals trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Most of these apps emphasize an analytics focus on quantitative measurements, personal goal setting, and behavioral feedback; social features to encourage PA through social support from friends, family, and like-minded individuals; techniques like reinforcement scheduling to track a participant’s PA over a period of time.*5, 6, 7 

Although step count goals, motivational factors, and the use of apps are helpful in encouraging PA, the most important predictor of an increased level of activity is higher levels of accountability that instill self-confidence. A strong social structure of friends and family can help patients be accountable for their structured routine of PA.*8

Feeling motivated to get moving? Check out Exercise Anywhere and find an activity that’s right for you!