Type 2 Diabetes and Exercise: Can A Short, Daily Workout Make a Difference?

The scientifically-proven 7-minute workout has been shown to have impressive benefits but can it be helpful for people with type 2 diabetes?

Thinking about trying the popular 7-minute workout? This series of high-intensity exercises performed in succession with short periods of rest in between has been shown to produce impressive benefits when performed 6 days per week. These benefits include reduced body mass index (BMI), improved oxygen uptake, smaller hip and waist circumference and improved sensitivity to insulin. 1

The workout includes 9 to 12 exercises that use the body’s big muscles at a high-intensity pace. Exercises are done at the rate of 15 to 20 repetitions per 30-second interval, with a rest period of fewer than 15 seconds between exercises to maximize metabolic impact. Below, personal trainer Katie Teasdale (who also has type 1 diabetes) demonstrates how to complete each exercise within the 7-minute workout whilst maintaining proper form and technique:

Research has shown that even a very short workout can achieve a reduction in waist circumference and can be a “great solution for people to get started and plan on continuing exercising.”2

All of which sounds great but what about people with type 2 diabetes?

While physical exercise is vital in the prevention and management of diabetes3, the intensity of the workout may initially prove daunting for some. What's more, people with type 2 diabetes may need longer resistance and additional aerobic training than can be achieved from a 7-minute session, says Nicholas Beltz, PhD, assistant professor of sports physiology at the University of Wisconsin.

Overall, however, the workout gets a green light from Beltz.

“If we’re talking about reductions in waist and hip circumference, theoretically we’re talking about fat specific to an individual with impaired glycemic control,” he says. “We’re looking for changes in central adiposity, the fat surrounding the organs, which for individuals with type 2 diabetes is promising to see.’

Muscle Mass, Intensity and Aerobics

“When you look at a workout as it relates to type 2 diabetes you first try to see that it engages the most muscle mass possible,” says Beltz. “Second is intensity. And while 7-minute workout does employ muscle mass and gains some aerobic value through repetitions and moving from one exercise to the other rapidly, if you have type 2 diabetes, you’ll probably want to add an additional aerobic program.”


When it comes to muscle mass and intensity, Beltz suggests that type 2 patients might want to add weights to the workout. “Specifically, where we’re looking at improved glycemic control and improved insulin sensitivity via exercise for people with type 2 diabetes, we’d want to increase intensity to build more muscle mass,” he says.

The reason is simple: “The more muscle mass you have the greater the benefit in fighting insulin resistance,” he says. To achieve this, he suggests that during the wall sits, you could hold your arms out while holding a weight; while performing a squat, you could grab onto a medicine ball or throughout the workout, you could wear a weighted vest.”

With regards to intensity, Beltz warns to start slow if you are new to exercise or haven't been physically active of late. “If you haven’t been exercising regularly for a while, this is a workout you can build up to. If you’re not accustomed to it it’s going to be extremely challenging. Either don’t do as many sets or increase resting time. Take 15 minutes to start, then work down to seven or eight minutes as you become accustomed to the plan,” says Beltz.

“What we’re looking for is 21 sets of exercises three times a week, which is the volume of exercise that researchers see as beneficial for glycemic improvement,” he says. 

While the 7-minute workout builds aerobic capacity through the rapid switching of one exercise to another, people with diabetes may also need more aerobic training, Beltz says.

“I’d recommend a nice aerobic training program that is a mix of low and high-intensity training,” says Beltz. He recommends starting at 20-minute sessions and building up to a workout lasting 40 minutes. “One day you can throw in a casual easy walk, a brisk walk and one day of high interval intensity aerobic workout.”  

When combined with three days of resistance training and one rest day, “it can be a pretty powerful program with nice peaks and valleys of intensity and volume,” he says. 

A Few Warnings

Beltz warns that for people with peripheral neuropathy, who may have a tingling sensation in their hands or feet or may not be able to feel their feet, the 7-minute workout may not be the best since it involves stepping up on a chair.

The other consideration is maintaining blood sugar—if you exercise at night you should track your blood glucose levels as they could continue to drop following the workout and you might want to have a snack. In the morning, make sure you have a snack before you do your exercise and monitor blood sugars before and after the workout.

Ultimately, Beltz concludes, any workout should prove challenging but not unpleasant.

“Anytime we’re trying to get an individual with type 2 to exercise, enjoyment should be a huge factor,” says Beltz. “We’re talking about a lifestyle change, and if we make it enjoyable, we’ll be able to see solid results. It doesn't help anyone to do the 7-minute workout once.”

Updated on: July 24, 2019
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