Harvard Heart Letter

Exercise prescription for diabetes

Combining aerobic exercise and strength training is best for diabetes.

Exercise is excellent medicine for an ailing heart, or for keeping a healthy one healthy. It's just as important for type 2 diabetes. This is the kind of diabetes that tends to develop gradually, often in response to excess weight or lack of physical activity. Is one kind of exercise better than another for diabetes? An "exercise prescription" from the American Heart Association recommends a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training. It's also a great combination for the heart.

This dual strategy makes sense. Aerobic activity, like walking or swimming, strengthens the heart, lungs, and muscles. It helps control blood pressure and blood sugar. It keeps arteries flexible. It is also essential for losing weight and excess body fat, or for maintaining weight. All of these are key strategies for many people with diabetes. Strength training helps muscles respond better to insulin, the hormone that ushers blood sugar into cells. A single bout of it can make muscle cells "listen" to insulin better for 12 hours or more.

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