The intensity, frequency, and duration of exercise will depend to a large extent on the severity of your diabetes and initial fitness level. In general, especially at the beginning of your program, emphasize frequency and duration over intensity. The following tips should help you get a safe start to your exercise program:
• Progress to a frequency of at least five days per week: Exercising three days per week is a good start. As you adjust to the program, progressively work up to five days per week, varying the program on alternating days to prevent boredom.
• Start with shorter bouts of exercise: The higher the level of deconditioning, the more difficult it will be to exercise. Start with three 10-minute bouts of exercise: 10 minutes of cardiorespiratory activity (e.g., stationary cycling), 10 minutes of resistance training (e.g., fundamental movements such as squats, presses, and pulls), and 10 minutes of flexibility exercises. Add minutes to each area of fitness as you become more capable and comfortable with the program. Rest as much as is necessary to prevent premature fatigue. The major objective of exercise at this stage is to keep moving, so intensity should not be a focus of the program.
• Introduce weightbearing exercise slowly: Weightbearing activities (such as walking and jogging) may be difficult for you in the beginning. Try to incorporate nonweightbearing activities, such as aquatic exercise and arm and leg cycling.
Because you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, be sure to get medical clearance for exercise from your physician before you start any new physical activity program. Your doctor should give you specific guidelines and limitations for exercise, as well as a plan for controlling your blood sugar and any precautions (such as how to carefully monitor your feet for blisters caused by shoe friction from activity).
Lastly, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be an appropriate mode of exercise for those with diabetes, but only after an extended conditioning period such as the one I’ve previously described. Consider introducing HIIT to your program only after 6 to 8 weeks of consistent training using the recommendations above.