Science Says These Types of Exercise Are Best For Lowering Blood Sugar

Managing type 2 diabetes requires a comprehensive approach.

By: Lauren Panoff MPH, RD

Managing type 2 diabetes requires a comprehensive approach. While certain medications may be prescribed, everyone with diabetes can benefit from incorporating healthy lifestyle habits like a nutritious diet and regular exercise. Moving your body not only helps support your heart, lungs, and musculoskeletal health, but it’s also very effective for lowering blood sugar. 

Let’s examine why exercise lowers blood sugar and what the science says about the best types of exercise for type 2 diabetes.

Can Exercise Lower Blood Sugar?

Yes! Getting regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to manage your blood sugar levels. The impact of exercise on blood sugar levels can vary depending on the type of movement you’re doing as well as the duration and intensity of it.

Here’s why exercise can lower blood sugar

  • Increases insulin sensitivity: Exercise enhances your body’s sensitivity to insulin, the hormone responsible for transporting glucose from your bloodstream into your cells. Improved insulin sensitivity means your cells can more effectively use insulin to take up glucose, reducing blood sugar levels.
  • Muscle contractions and glucose uptake: During physical activity, your muscles contract and use glucose for energy. This process doesn’t necessarily require insulin, so it provides a direct mechanism for lowering blood sugar levels.
  • Reduction in stored glucose: Exercise stimulates your muscles to use stored glucose for energy. This reduces the amount of glucose circulating in your bloodstream, lowering blood sugar levels.
  • Enhanced glucose transporter activity: Exercise increases the activity of glucose transporters in your cell membranes, allowing your cells to utilize glucose more efficiently.
  • Long-term benefits: Regular exercise contributes to long-term improvements in insulin sensitivity, which can have lasting effects on your blood sugar control.

New Research Shows These Exercises Are Best to Lower Blood Sugar


While all exercise is good for you, research has concluded that moderate-to-vigorous intensity is optimal for people with diabetes. 

Moderate-intensity exercise generally corresponds to 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. You should be able to talk — but not sing — and you might break a light sweat. Vigorous exercise generally corresponds to 70-85% of your maximum heart rate. With this type of exercise, it’s tough to hold a conversation, and you’re more likely to get sweaty. 

Studies suggest aiming for 30-60 minutes of intentional movement most days. For older adults, a good starting goal is to get more steps walking. More steps per day are associated with lower incident diabetes, especially when they are brisk and fall more in line with the moderate-to-vigorous activity category.

Here are some of the ways you can incorporate a variety of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercises into your blood sugar management plan.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise is often called “cardio”. It contributes to your cardiovascular fitness, endurance, and overall health. This type of activity increases your heart rate and breathing while engaging large muscle groups rhythmically and continuously. 

The term “aerobic” means oxygen is being used to meet your body’s energy needs during exercise. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, cycling, swimming, and dancing.

Strength Training

Strength training, also known as resistance training or weight training, focuses on improving muscular strength, endurance, and power by using resistance against muscle contraction. 

These types of exercises can be done with free weights (like dumbbells and barbells), weight machines, or resistance bands. You can even use your body weight. 

Flexibility and Balance Exercises

Flexibility and balance exercises are two essential components of a well-rounded fitness routine. These types of exercise focus on enhancing the range of motion in joints, improving overall flexibility, and promoting stability to prevent falls and injuries. 

Some examples of flexibility and balance exercises include yoga, tai chi, and Pilates. Even some deep stretching counts as it helps you work toward increased flexibility. 

Interval Training

Interval training is a form of cardio that alternates between periods of intense effort and periods of lower intensity or a few minutes of rest. This approach is designed to challenge the cardiovascular system, improve fitness, and burn calories more efficiently than steady-state, continuous exercise. 

Interval training is effective in promoting fat loss while preserving lean muscle mass. It also supports improved insulin sensitivity, glucose control, weight management, and reduction in abdominal fat. 

Incorporating Exercise Into Your Blood Sugar Support Routine 

There’s no question that getting regular exercise is a key component of optimal blood sugar control. Here are some of the main reasons you should incorporate it into your type 2 diabetes management plan. 

  • It supports weight management: Exercise plays a key role in weight control and weight loss, which is particularly relevant for individuals with type 2 diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce insulin resistance and improve blood sugar levels.
  • It reduces the risk of diabetes complications: Poorly controlled blood sugar over time can lead to complications such as cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, and kidney problems. Regular exercise can mitigate these risks by promoting heart health, reducing inflammation, and improving overall well-being.
  • It offers long-term health benefits: Beyond blood sugar control, regular exercise promotes general health by supporting immune function, improving sleep quality, and boosting energy.
  • It reduces stress: Exercise is known to reduce stress levels, and stress can contribute to elevated blood sugar. By incorporating exercise into a routine, you may experience both physical and mental health benefits that influence blood sugar control.
  • It supports heart health: Exercise can improve lipid profiles by increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol) and decreasing triglycerides. This contributes to overall cardiovascular health and reduces the risk of heart-related complications associated with diabetes.

If you’re new to exercise, it’s important to take things slow and stay consistent. Before starting a new exercise routine, consult with your healthcare provider. Tailoring an exercise plan to your individual needs, goals, and abilities ensures a safe and effective approach to blood sugar control and overall well-being.

Get Moving Today

Optimal blood sugar control requires a comprehensive approach that includes healthy lifestyle habits. Research shows that regular exercise is a key component of good blood sugar control. This should include a variety of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercises, like a combination of aerobic exercise, interval training, resistance training, and flexibility and stretching. Aim for 30-60 minutes of intentional movement most days for the most blood sugar benefit.