Type 2 Diabetes: Should You Try Fitness Trends?

Exercise is a great way to manage your type 2 diabetes, but even the best workout routine can feel a bit blah after a while.

If you’re looking for a challenge -- something new or more intense -- the latest trends may have caught your eye. You've got a bunch to choose from, like barre classes that draw on dance moves, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that trades hardcore bursts of exercise with more moderate moves, and flexibility-boosting yoga.

Before you jump in, consider a few things even if you’re already in pretty good shape.

How Will It Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Exercise usually lowers your levels. If you take insulin or diabetes meds, a boost in workout intensity or length can mean you’ll have to adjust your snacks, medication, or both. Talk to your doctor about what to do.

Adventure sports like rock-climbing or scuba-diving should be safe if you’re in good health aside from diabetes. Make sure to get the right training. Don’t do these activities alone, because you may need help if your blood sugar gets too low (what doctors call "hypoglycemia"). Take some fast-acting carbs like a sports gel, glucose tablets, or even a tube of cake icing with you.

On the flipside, exercise that’s too hard can raise your blood sugar by making it harder for your muscle cells to use insulin. A workout helps pump you up by causing small tears in muscle fibers. When they heal, your muscles are stronger. But if you aren’t used to super-tough workouts like HIIT, they can do so much damage that days go by before you feel like moving again. During that time your muscle cells can’t use insulin well, and that will boost your blood sugar.

It may also rise if you skip workouts. If you’re so sore you can’t make your next gym session, you probably need to dial it down. There’s no rush: It’s better to build intensity slowly as you get used to a new routine. You’re more likely to stick with it if you don’t feel like you’ve been through the wringer.


Will It Hurt Your Joints?

Long-term diabetes can affect them. Over time, blood sugar starts to build up in them, a process called “glycation.” Good control over your disease can help delay it, but the longer you have the diabetes, the more likely it will happen.

Glycation can make your joints stiff and brittle. Pounding away with HITT or making a lot of fast moves might by risky -- one wrong move could lead to an injury. Routines that have you do the same moves over and over again can cause problems. Stiff joints can also take a toll on your balance, setting you up for a fall.

Many people with type 2 diabetes take cholesterol medications called statins. They can cause muscle or joint pain, making it tough for you to do high-impact moves correctly or quickly. These drugs also make muscle or joint injuries more likely.

On the other hand, workouts like yoga, Pilates, and tai chi are good choices. They’ll help you build your strength, balance, and flexibility.

Do You Have Any Complications?

Some of the health problems that go along with type 2 can get worse or boost your odds of an injury, depending on what kind of exercise you do.

Diabetes-related nerve damage. The kind your doctor calls "peripheral neuropathy" can make you lose feeling in your feet and toes. It can also affect your balance and raise your chances of falling. If you have it, try not to run or jump. Choose an exercise that doesn’t impact your joints, like swimming.

Another kind of nerve damage, autonomic neuropathy, can make you faint if you move around too fast.

Eye problems. Diabetes can cause new blood vessels to grow in your eyes -- your doctor might call this "proliferative retinopathy." They’re weak and often leaky. When you jump, lift heavy weights, make jarring moves, or hold your head down (as in certain yoga poses), these fragile blood vessels could bleed. If you’ve had a dilated eye exam in the last year, your eye doctor can tell you if the workouts you’re interested in are safe.

If all you want to do is switch from one moderate type of exercise to another, you probably don’t need to discuss it with your doctor. But if you want to ramp up your workout from moderate to intense, get checked out first. You might not be aware you’ve lost feeling in your feet, and diabetes-related eye disease often has no symptoms early on.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on May 12, 2018



Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD, professor of exercise science, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA.

American Diabetes Association: “Blood Glucose Control and Exercise,” “Exercising With Diabetes Complications.”

Abate, M. Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Obesity: Targets and Therapy, May 2013.

Buettner, C. American Journal of Medicine, February 2012.

Mansi, I. JAMA Internal Medicine, July 22, 2013.

Joslin Diabetes Center: “Exercising with Diabetes Complications.”

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