Best Exercise for Type 2 Diabetes May Be Surprise

Best exercise for type 2 diabetes

Proper diet and regular exercise are two of the main factors for management of type 2 diabetes, but people are often confused about the best exercise to do and for how long. For all those who dread the idea of vigorous exercise, the results of a new study may be good news.

Can standing around be the best exercise?

Which type of exercise is best to help manage insulin levels, vigorous activity or just walking and standing around? The results of a new study conducted at Maastricht University in the Netherlands suggest you don’t need to whip out your sweat band and workout gear, but there is a caveat.

The caveat has to do with calories or energy burned. According to the researchers, when the number of calories used were similar, people who used those calories walking and standing around had significant better insulin levels compared with individuals who were mostly sedentary but exercised vigorously for one hour each day.

Therefore, slower but longer sessions or stretches of physical activity improves insulin sensitivity much better than does a vigorous workout. The authors also noted that blood lipid levels (cholesterol, triglycerides) were significantly better among people who walked and stood around than among those who worked out hard.

Basically, here’s how the study was conducted. Eighteen young adults (ages 19-24) of normal weight participated in three different activity regimens.

  • Regimen 1: participants sat for 14 hours each day and did not engage in any exercise
  • Regimen 2: participants sat for 13 hours and engaged in vigorous exercise (cycling) for one hour daily
  • Regimen 3: participants sat for 8 hours and spent 4 hours walking and 2 hours standing


After each test period was over, the investigators monitored insulin sensitivity and blood lipid levels of each participant. Although the results were significantly better in both exercise groups when compared with the sedentary group, the slower, low-intensity regimen was the best exercise overall.

American Diabetes Association exercise guidelines
In December 2010, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) issued new recommendations on exercise for people with type 2 diabetes. The guidelines made accommodations for people who cannot engage in vigorous activities.

Specifically, the recommendations are for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise that takes place over at least three days a week, and with no more than two consecutive days between aerobic exercise sessions.

In addition, people with type 2 diabetes should participate in at least two but preferably three sessions per week of resistance or weight training exercise. This includes use of free weights or resistance machines that engage the major muscle groups and involves at least 5 to 10 exercises.

The results of the new study seem to be in line with the ADA’s guidelines on exercise. Overall, the best exercise for type 2 diabetes, especially for those who can’t or don’t want to engage in vigorous activities, is to get up out of the chair and keep walking and standing around for a significant part of the day.

American Diabetes Association
Bernard MFM et al. Minimal intensity physical activity (standing and walking) of longer duration improves insulin action and plasma lipids more than shorter periods of moderate to vigorous exercise (cycling) in sedentary subjects when energy expenditure is comparable. PLoS One 2013; 8(2): e55542

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