Exercises for Patients with Diabetes: Why Step Up Your Activity - How to Stay Safe When Exercising - 8 Diabetes-Friendly Exercises to Try

According to a study published in BioMed Central (BMC), over 400,000 Singaporeans are diagnosed with diabetes—a chronic condition that disrupts the body’s regulation of blood sugar. 

This staggering statistic highlights the need for diet and lifestyle adjustment in many cases, which includes managing one’s calorie intake and stress reduction, among other factors. Active lifestyle management is in fact an integral part of diabetes treatment in addition to medication management.

In addition, there’s a lifestyle change that often goes overlooked against this widespread health concern: exercise. As stated by Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in The Straits Times, an alarming number of Singaporeans have shifted towards a sedentary lifestyle, hindering the country’s collective battle against diabetes.

This is why it’s high time for everyone to recognise the power of staying active if you have type 2 diabetes (the most common kind of diabetes). In this blog post, we will delve into the role of exercise in helping to manage diabetes and how incorporating physical activity into your routine can help you take better control of your blood sugar and overall health. 

Whether you’re newly diagnosed or have been managing diabetes for a long time, learning the best exercises for diabetics to boost cardiovascular health and stabilise blood sugar can be a game-changer. Read on to learn more!

Getting Started: How Exercise Helps to Control Your Blood Sugar

To understand the role of exercise in regulating type 2 diabetes, let’s look at underlying changes that happen in the body which lead to the development of the disease.

Initially, the body slowly gets less receptive to the hormone insulin. This insulin resistance prevents your muscles from efficiently absorbing glucose as they normally do. The body then attempts to compensate by increasing insulin production. 

As a result, it puts a strain on the pancreas (the organ which produces insulin), which becomes fatigued in the process and eventually fails to produce an adequate amount of insulin.

This is where exercise for patients with diabetes comes into play. When you’re regularly involved in physical activity, it lowers blood glucose levels and increases your body’s insulin sensitivity. This counteracts the insulin resistance which is at the root of diabetes.

Exercise Guidelines for Patients with Type 2 Diabetes

It is recommended that people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes should increase physical activity through walking more and engaging regularly in both aerobic and strength training exercises.

General guidelines are for an average of 10,000 steps daily and 150 minutes of aerobic exercise with two to three strength training sessions each week.

If you currently have a very sedentary lifestyle you should build up to these targets gradually, As a start, build more walking into your daily routine to increase your steps to 5000, then 7500, then 10,000 daily.

As you get into the swing of a more active lifestyle, add a regular exercise routine based on what you enjoy.  Try to make this a regular activity - joining classes or working out with a buddy can help keep you motivated.  There are many options to choose from - just take a look at our list below for starters - you’ll soon see clear improvements in your diabetes control.

Do keep in mind that the general guidelines may not be suitable for all individuals with Type 2 diabetes. In particular, if you have any kind of heart problem, high-intensity workouts and weightlifting might pose risks.  Also hip or joint problems may limit your ability to do certain exercises (in which case a programme of alternative exercises like swimming can be planned).

When starting a more intense exercise programme it’s best that you consult your healthcare provider first,  gradually step up your activity over a few weeks and take note of a number of safety precautions (see below).

Top 8 Exercises For Patients with Diabetes

If this is your first time planning a well-rounded exercise program that will help your diabetes management, you may not be sure which activities to choose.  What should you include in your routine to help you improve balance, boost insulin sensitivity and increase muscle mass?

To start with, here are 8 great exercises for patients with diabetes to begin their journey to higher activity.


If you have diabetes and are just starting out with increased activity, walking is a great starting point. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need high-end exercise equipment or a gym membership to engage in physical activity. All you need is a safe place to walk and a supportive pair of shoes, and you’re good to go.

Getting a good step count can have a positive impact on your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. Engaging in a 30-minute brisk walk daily—equivalent to 100 steps per minute—is a good start to getting your step count up towards guideline targets.

Pair your walks with something exciting to motivate you. For instance, listen to your favourite podcast or bring a camera to take pictures of anything interesting. 

Or adapt your daily routine to work in additional steps regularly e.g. getting off the bus to work one stop early and walking from there.

Using a diabetes app to keep track of your step count and other relevant health metrics is also a valuable tool to monitor your progress.


Water-based activities like swimming are great alternative approaches to exercise that go easy on your joints and are particularly suitable for patients with limited mobility due to joint problems. A detailed study in 2017 showed a significant reduction in HbA1c (the key measure of your medium-term blood glucose control) after two months of aquatic activities.

Swimming can help you burn calories, lower cholesterol levels and build muscle mass in both your upper and lower body. It’s a great exercise - especially in our hot tropical climate!

Make sure that you wear a good pair of water shoes to protect your feet from potential hazards during water activities.  And If a lifeguard is present, let them know you have diabetes for your safety.


Callisthenics is a form of strength training that involves using your own body weight to build muscle strength. Typical callisthenic activities include squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups and abdominal crunches. Since they involve full-body movements, they can help reduce blood sugar levels.

Callisthenics is convenient because you don’t need gym equipment to get started. It makes for a perfect at-home workout that enhances flexibility, coordination, endurance and strength.  And there are many easy-to-follow video courses available on YouTube

It’s recommended to target all the major muscle groups in your body. For adequate recovery, take a day off from muscle-strengthening exercises after each session.


Mainly considered aerobic exercise, cycling 30 minutes a day and three to five times a week is an effective way to manage diabetes. Whether you bike for fun or use it as a mode of transportation, this activity improves insulin sensitivity and cardiorespiratory fitness while reducing visceral fat.

It can lessen the risk of obesity, triglyceride levels and high blood pressure without straining your joints. Cycling also aids in improving blood circulation to your extremities, reducing nerve and blood vessel damage in the long run. 

Grab your old bike and hit the outdoors to begin. But if you don’t want to leave your house, you can get an affordable stationary bike. Pair it with a diabetes app to help you track cycling time and calories burned.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese practice, involves a sequence of slow and gentle movements combined with deep breathing. According to a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Diabetes Research, Tai Chi can be a useful method for people with type 2 diabetes to better manage their blood glucose and A1C levels. 

Stress can be a huge hindrance to effective diabetes management. Given that tai chi promotes stress reduction and mental relaxation, it logically follows that regularly practising this activity can contribute to better diabetes monitoring.

Tai Chi has many benefits: it helps you to develop enhanced balance, larger range of motion, improved mobility and overall well-being. And it also promotes stress reduction and mental relaxation.  The impact of stress on diabetes control should not be underestimated: stress-related hormones generally increase blood sugar levels and over time can lead to insulin-resistance, as substantiated by various scientific studies.  

Team Sports

It’s hard to force yourself to get out of bed and get moving, especially when you have to do it alone. However, you may consider joining a recreational sports team if you struggle to muster the motivation for exercise. 

You get the opportunity to interact with teammates, expand your social network and meet your fitness goals. This, in turn, can help you stay engaged and attend regular sessions every week. 

Several recreational sports provide a good aerobic workout. This includes softball, ultimate frisbee, basketball, soccer, pairs tennis and many more.


Another exercise for diabetics you might want to include in your regimen is weightlifting or other muscle-strengthening activities. This is beneficial for building muscle mass, which can improve your ability to maintain blood sugar and increase the amount of calories you burn.

To include weightlifting into your exercise routine, you can start by using free weights, weight machines and dumbbells. If you want at-home workouts, you can use resistance bands or heavy household items like water bottles, bags of rice and water bottles.

You can manage the risk of injuries from weight training by signing up for a weightlifting program or seeking guidance from a professional trainer.


Like Tai Chi and other mind-body therapies, yoga is a calming and budget-friendly approach to managing diabetes and reducing stress. In fact, a study indicates that yoga can significantly lower stress-related high blood sugar levels and positively impact your blood sugar control in the medium term. 

To begin, join a yoga class in your local gym. With a qualified instructor, you can transition between yoga poses while using the correct posture and breathing techniques. This expert guidance can truly make a difference in your yoga practice.

Exercising Safely For Patients with Diabetes

It’s normal to have reservations about engaging in physical activities when you have diabetes. You might be worried that it will make your condition worse, lead to injuries and make you feel more fatigued than ever before. 

However, being active is a key part of managing your condition and should be an integral part of diabetes lifestyle management for every patient with diabetes.  When done right, physical activity can help you achieve health objectives like reducing blood pressure, meeting A1C targets and managing your cholesterol.  This can also have other benefits such as requiring less medication.

Patients with diabetes do, however, face some risks when stepping up their activity and adding new exercises.  Take not of the following points for your own safety:

Consult Your Healthcare Provider Before Starting

It’s important to consult your healthcare provider or a personal diabetes coach before starting a new exercise program. Depending on your current weight, diabetes control and any relevant conditions, they can help you put together an exercise plan which is practical, enjoyable and effective without exposing you to any risks.  

Check Your Blood Glucose Levels 

Engaging in exercise generally lowers your blood glucose levels and aids in diabetes management. But in some cases, it can also lead to a drop in blood glucose levels below the normal range, commonly known as hypoglycemia

You may experience nausea, headache, fatigue, and in the worst cases, seizures. This is a result of the body burning more glucose as a result of exercise than is available from your diet and can happen if, for example you start heavy exercise without adequate food.  It can also be a side effect of certain medications.

While exercise-induced low blood glucose is typically a more significant concern for people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, those with type 2 diabetes taking insulin medications can also face the same problem.

It is generally recommended to check your blood glucose level before and after exercising even if you’re using non-insulin medications. If your blood sugar is at the lower end of the normal range (normally 4-7 mmol/l) you should take a small healthy snack (like a banana) before starting.  If you repeatedly get hypos or feel faint or dizzy as a result of exercising make sure you talk to your diabetes coach or doctor since your medication dosage may need to be changed. 

Plan Your Pre- and Post-Workout Meals

Keeping your blood glucose in a safe range when exercising also involves planning your diet to take into account several factors, such as your fitness objectives, the type of workout you’re doing and your treatment plan. 

For example, if you’re starting a high-intensity workout, you should consume a well-balanced meal within an hour after exercising to aid your body in recovery.

On the other hand, eat lighter meals that contain adequate protein and carbohydrates if you want to increase the intensity of your exercise regimen. This will raise your blood glucose levels and make you less tired during your physical activity.

If you don’t know where to start, you can work with a personal diabetes coach to create a suitable diabetes lifestyle and diet plan personalised to your needs.

Stay Hydrated

For people with type 2 diabetes, drinking plenty of water is crucial since dehydration can adversely affect blood glucose levels and heart function. And when you’re dehydrated, it can result in fatigue and a diminished exercise tolerance.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends drinking about 17 ounces of fluids two hours before exercising. You should also stay hydrated during and after your routine to replace the fluids lost through perspiration.

Pay Attention To Your Body

Pay close attention to your body when starting a new exercise routine. While you may experience initial discomfort, working out should not cause pain. If you encounter alarming symptoms when exercising, take a break immediately.

Some symptoms may include light-headedness, pain, shortness of breath and dizziness. 

Also, make sure that you’re not pushing yourself too hard. A helpful gauge for this is called the Talk Test. Once you find yourself becoming short of breath to the point where you can’t hold a conversation, it’s a sign to slow down. 

Be Mindful of Your Feet

A complication of diabetes is nerve damage due to prolonged high blood sugar levels.  This is called diabetic neuropathy and (if you suffer from this) will reduce your pain sensitivity.  As a result you may be unaware of cuts or damage to your feet,  which are often slow to heal or may get infected. That’s why it’s important to check your feet after every workout: look for blisters, cuts, redness and other signs of irritation.

Wearing well-fitting supportive footwear also prevents injuries during exercise. If you experience foot pain, consider engaging in activities that are gentler on your feet, including cycling, water aerobics and chair yoga.

Moreover, don’t forget to schedule yearly foot examinations with your doctor to detect any problems.

Wear a Medical ID

Wear a sport-friendly medical ID bracelet at all times. Your ID should contain essential information about your condition, allowing people to assist you in an emergency. This is especially helpful if you use insulin to manage type 2 diabetes.

Most importantly, paramedics and emergency responders can initiate appropriate treatment promptly, lowering the risk of hypoglycemia getting severe. 

Diabetes Apps Can Help You to Implement a Safe and Effective Exercise Programme

Exercises for diabetics play a crucial role in preventing and managing conditions like insulin resistance, blood glucose regulation and other diabetes-related complications. Other benefits include enhanced cardiovascular health, healthy weight loss and increased muscle mass.

However, you should approach exercise with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Bear in mind that not all exercises are suitable for every person with diabetes, and the key is to find something that works for you and your specific needs.

Whether you choose brisk walking, Tai Chi, cycling or a combination of activities, start gradually. Once you get the hang of it, you can gradually increase your intensity while monitoring your blood sugar levels.

Be consistent, set ambitious but achievable goals, surround yourself with a support network and keep working towards better diabetes management.

You don’t have to do this alone. Use a diabetes app to support your diabetes management journey. Good apps take a comprehensive approach to diabetes management and assist you in blood glucose monitoring, diet and lifestyle management, personal diabetes coaching and medication management.

To get started, go to www.sugosure.com to learn more about SugoSure’s complete approach to diabetes management. Watch our videos and see how SugoSure is used to help you track your activity and progress. Then start the sign-up process by completing a short Diabetes Assessment.

The SugoSure app is available on Google Play and Apple App Store.