Yoga for Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on April 08, 2022
3 min read

Exercise can be an important part of managing your diabetes. It can help keep your blood sugar levels steady and even help lower your chances of getting the disease in the first place.

Brisk walks, running, and strength training with weights are good choices. So is one that many people may not consider: yoga.

People have practiced yoga for hundreds of years. Research shows that yoga can help improve your overall quality of life as well as help manage symptoms specific to diabetes.

Yoga is both a physical activity and a mental one. The word comes from the Sanskrit word for yoking, or to join or unite. It mixes specific postures, breathing techniques, and meditation. It may help you:

  • Get stronger
  • Improve your balance and lessen chances of a fall, even if you have nerve damage
  • Better control blood sugar levels
  • Be more flexible
  • Build more muscle
  • Lower stress
  • Be more mindful
  • Be more accepting of your body
  • Improve your nerve function
  • Lower your blood pressure

Physical activity is a big part of staying healthy with diabetes. And regular exercise is one of the best types of physical movement.

Yoga can be a good choice if you’re looking for something that’s gentler on your joints and won’t leave you huffing and puffing. Most types of yoga aren’t aerobic, which is when your heart beats faster and your body uses more oxygen. But if you do it at high-enough speed, you can make yoga into a cardio workout.

A review of 37 randomized, controlled studies found that compared to no exercise, practicing yoga helps lower your weight, drops LDL “bad” cholesterol levels, and raises your HDL “good” cholesterol.

Yoga also can be a form of resistance, or strength training, which uses free weights or your own body weight to help build muscles. Resistance exercise has shown to better regulate blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It also helps your cells respond better to insulin and convert glucose in your bloodstream into energy.

If you’re new to yoga, check into a beginner’s class with a qualified yoga professional. Your local hospitals or medical centers may even offer free classes for people with diabetes.

You also can do yoga at home by watching videos or free online tutorials. Most types of yoga are safe. But talk to your doctor if you have any concerns. Fast-paced yoga like hot or Bikram yoga may not be recommended for some people who have diabetes.

Take care to move in and out of poses slowly. Sudden shifts could make your blood pressure drop and leave you dizzy. Yoga poses you might try include:

  • Sun salutations
  • Seated poses like frog pose
  • Twisting poses, such as seated spinal twist

Avoid inverted poses like head stands where your head drops below your heart. That may increase pressure in your eyes and cause harm. Simple inversions like forward fold can have the same effect.

So how much yoga is enough? There are no set guidelines for yoga specifically, but aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity workout each week. That means you should be breathing harder than normal, but still able to talk. But any amount of physical activity benefits your health.

If you feel any pain or discomfort, pull back. Yoga instructors often advise that you not eat before a session. But consider eating a light snack, especially if you’re taking insulin or other medication, before your workout to avoid low blood sugar.

Always check with your doctor before starting a new activity in case any changes need to be made to your treatment plan.