People with diabetes need to carefully manage their blood sugar levels as they may become too high. This happens because the body doesn't make enough insulin, or the body can't use insulin efficiently.
Without insulin, the sugar in the blood does not reach the body's cells, and it builds up in the blood. Over time, having too much glucose in the blood leads to health problems.
There is currently no cure for either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. However, type 2 diabetes can be managed to a large degree by a healthful diet and regular exercise.
This article explores the role of exercise in diabetes management and addresses whether yoga is beneficial for people with diabetes.
Contents of this article:
How diet and exercise can control diabetes
Eating a healthful diet and being physically active can help control blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Keeping blood sugar under control is the best way to avoid complications of diabetes.
Regular exercise can help keep blood sugar levels under control.
A healthful food and exercise plan can help a person:
These are all important factors to help people with diabetes manage their condition and prevent more serious condition, such as heart disease.
A Consensus Statement from the American Diabetes Association strongly links regular physical activity to better outcomes in people with diabetes, including a lower mortality rate.
It is a good idea to get a doctor to approve a diet and exercise program before beginning. In part, this is because exercising too much or too quickly can lead to low blood sugar. This happens because exercise lowers blood glucose levels.
In addition, people with diabetes may have other health problems as a result of their condition, such as neuropathy in the feet. This sort of issue may mean that not all exercise programs are suitable for a person with diabetes.
Despite these considerations a variety of exercise options do work well for many people with diabetes, including:
- strength training
But one activity in particular may offer a number of benefits for people with diabetes: yoga.
Benefits of yoga for people with diabetes
People have practiced yoga for thousands of years, and it has gained mainstream popularity in recent years.
According to a 2016 Yoga in America study, yoga practitioners are on the rise, with more than 36 million today, up from just 20 million in 2012.
Yoga has been shown to improve physical and mental well-being by:
Lowering stress levels
This is important for people who have diabetes because some evidence suggests that stress may play a role in the onset and management of diabetes, according to a review in Diabetes Spectrum.
Improving emotional well-being
In addition to strengthening the body, yoga can also improve a person's mental well-being.
Practicing yoga can help people to develop deep breathing ability and the mind-body connection.
Improving strength and balance
Most yoga practices involve a number of poses that improve a person's strength, flexibility, and balance.
Improving heart health
A review in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation states that "yoga can be beneficial" in preventing cardiovascular disease.
Yoga can be modified to an individual's fitness level and ability. This makes it an attractive choice for people who are just beginning a workout plan. It is also low-impact and can often be done at home with little cost involved.
Studies on yoga and diabetes
Several medical studies and journal articles suggest that yoga may help people with diabetes, improving their health in a number of ways.
An article in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism states that yoga "holds promise" as an effective therapy for diabetes because:
- A study showed significant improvement in the quality of life for people with diabetes who regularly practiced yoga.
- Yoga's holistic approach to combining physical exercise with other healthy changes, such as diet, relaxation, and stress management, can help people with diabetes.
- Some types of yoga can provide a cardiovascular workout, making it a heart-healthy option.
An article in the Journal of Yoga and Physical Therapy found that practicing seated yoga for 10 minutes on a regular basis improved:
- fasting blood glucose levels
- heart rate and diastolic blood pressure
The study was looking specifically at people who were severely ill with diabetes. Although the study was small, it suggests that combining yoga with other necessary medical care can improve health in people with diabetes.
Yoga poses for diabetes
The following yoga poses, known as asanas, help with:
- stress reduction
All of these benefits can improve quality of life for a person who has diabetes. The seven poses described below are appropriate for all levels of fitness and ability. So, as soon as an individual has been given a doctor's approval to start exercise, they can begin straightaway.
- Stand with arms down at sides and feet flat on the floor. Feet can be slightly apart.
- Tuck the tailbone under, which will engage the abdominal, gluteal, and hamstring muscles.
- Breathe in, extend arms up and out to the sides with palms up.
- Exhale, while slowly bringing arms back down.
- Start on hands and knees, toes tucked under.
- Slowly straighten the legs, pointing the hips up to the ceiling and pressing the tailbone as far away from the hands as possible.
- The body should form an upside down "V."
- Focus on pressing hands and feet into the floor, keeping most of the weight in the legs rather than arms. Heels do not have to touch the floor.
- Relax back down by slowly bending the knees so that they rest on the floor in the starting position.
- This pose is a good resting pose to do between more difficult or physically challenging yoga poses.
- Begin by sitting on the feet, knees a few inches apart.
- Slowly lower the head down to the mat, putting the belly on top of the thighs. Head does not have to touch the mat for beginners.
- Slowly stretch arms forward, touching the front of the mat in front of the head.
- Hold for 10-20 seconds.
- Simply relax the tailbone toward the heels to stretch the lower back.
- Start by lying on the back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
- Press the heels down into the mat and lift the tailbone up so the hips and lower back are off the mat.
- Reach hands under the hips and lace the fingers together.
- Use the abdomen, gluteals, and hamstrings to hold the bottom and back up, then release fingers and slowly lower tailbone back down.
- Start on hands and knees, and tuck toes under.
- Lift knees off the mat and walk the feet toward the back of the mat so the body forms a straight line from head to heels. Shoulders should be stacked vertically over the wrists. This is similar to a push-up position.
- Hold for a few seconds, keeping the abdominals engaged and slowly relax down.
- Start by standing with right foot flat on the floor, left foot pointed with toes only on floor.
- Raise the left knee up, then swing it out to the side.
- Rest the bottom of the left foot on the inside of the right leg below the knee for beginners.
- Keep hands pressed together in front of the chest in prayer pose or hold onto a chair or wall to help with balance.
- Repeat with the other leg.
- Lie flat on the back with arms at the sides, palms facing up.
- Focus on relaxing the entire body and inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth.
Focus on breathing patterns of inhaling and exhaling deeply with each pose. Begin with a warm-up of at least 5 minutes and end with relaxation of 10 minutes. Relaxation and cool down may be done in corpse pose.
How to start yoga for diabetes
Before starting a yoga program, people with diabetes should speak with their doctors. To make yoga a success, keep the following in mind:
Any fitness program will be challenging at first. Overdoing it can result in injury or frustration.
Don't be afraid to modify
Yoga poses can be modified to an individual's strength and flexibility. Beginners, especially, should not try to do everything exactly as a professional instructor would do.
Take breaks for water and rest as needed. Using a chair or wall to help support and balance is often helpful for beginners.
Talk to the instructor
Many yoga instructors will provide extra help, support, or instruction to new students or those with health conditions.