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Yoga is a popular practice that many people find beneficial for their health. As well as being a type of exercise, it may also reduce stress. Can it also help with diabetes?

Diabetes develops when the body does not make enough insulin or cannot use it efficiently. It can cause a person to feel weak and tired, and it can lead to long-term complications such as nerve pain, cardiovascular disease, and more.

For people with type 2 diabetes, diet and exercise are crucial for managing blood sugar levels and preventing complications.

Starting an exercise regimen can feel daunting, especially for those who have not been active for some time. Yoga, however, can offer a gentle way to start building up strength and improving health.

This article looks at how yoga can help people with diabetes. It also lists seven helpful poses.

People have practiced yoga for thousands of years, and it has gained mainstream popularity in recent years.

Yoga may help improve physical and mental well-being by:

Lowering stress levels

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In addition to strengthening the body, yoga can also improve a person’s mental well-being.

Some evidence suggests that stress plays a role in the onset and management of diabetes. Therefore, managing stress levels may also help a person manage diabetes.

One study from 2013 found that yoga can improve specific chemical balances in the brain to help reduce stress levels.

Improving emotional well-being

Practicing yoga can help people learn deep breathing skills as well as develop the mind-body connection.

It is a form of mindfulness that helps people stay in the present moment. It may also reduce anxiety and improve emotional well-being.

Boosting strength and balance

Yoga involves a number of poses that aim to help improve a person’s strength, flexibility, and balance.

One mouse study from 2019 suggested that improving strength may help reduce liver fat and improve blood glucose levels in people with obesity and diabetes.

Some people with diabetes experience peripheral neuropathy due to nerve damage. In some cases, this can affect muscle strength and mobility. Building up strength through exercise may help people manage these effects.

Protecting heart health

The American Heart Association (AHA) list a number of reasons that yoga is good for health, including heart health.

They cite a study in which people with a type of atrial fibrillation practiced yoga and breathing exercises. After 12 weeks, the participants had a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure than those who did not practice yoga.

A person can modify how they practice yoga to suit their fitness level and abilities. This makes it an attractive choice for people who are just beginning a workout plan. It is also a low impact activity that people can do at home for little or no cost.

Learn how yoga can help with heart disease and depression here.

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Regular exercise can help keep blood sugar levels under control.

Several studies have suggested that yoga may help people with diabetes and improve their health in a number of ways.

According to an article from 2013, yoga “holds promise” as an effective therapy for diabetes because:

  • There is evidence of a significant improvement in quality of life for people with diabetes who regularly practice yoga.
  • Yoga’s holistic approach to combining physical exercise with other healthful changes — such as diet, relaxation, and stress management — can help people with diabetes manage their overall health.
  • Some types of yoga can provide a cardiovascular workout, making it a heart-healthy option.

Another article found that practicing seated yoga regularly for 10 minutes each time improved fasting blood glucose levels, heart rate, and diastolic blood pressure.

The authors looked specifically at people who were severely ill with diabetes. Although the study was small, it suggested that combining yoga with other necessary medical care can improve health in people with diabetes.

Some research has even gone so far as to say that yoga may help prevent diabetes from developing in those with a high risk of the condition.

In a 2009 study, people who participated in a 12-week yoga course saw improvements in their weight, insulin levels, blood pressure, and triglycerides, all of which play a role in the emergence of type 2 diabetes and other aspects of metabolic syndrome.

Learn more about yoga here.

The following yoga poses, or asanas, can help with:

  • stress reduction
  • strength
  • flexibility

All of these benefits can improve quality of life for a person with diabetes. The seven poses described below are appropriate for all levels of fitness and ability.

As soon as a person has discussed the plan with their doctor, they can begin.

Mountain pose

  • Stand with the arms at the sides and the feet flat on the floor. The feet can be slightly apart.
  • Tuck the tailbone, which will engage the abdominal, gluteal, and hamstring muscles.
  • Breathe in, extending the arms up and out to the sides with the palms up.
  • Exhale, slowly bringing the arms back down.

Downward-facing dog

  • Start on the hands and knees, with the 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” shape.
  • Focus on pressing the hands and feet into the floor, keeping most of the weight in the legs rather than the arms. The 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.

Child’s pose

This pose is a good resting pose to do between more difficult or physically challenging ones.

  • Begin by sitting on the feet, with the knees a few inches apart.
  • Slowly lower the head down to the mat, resting the belly on top of the thighs. The head does not have to touch the mat.
  • Slowly stretch the arms forward, touching the front of the mat in front of the head.
  • Hold for 10–20 seconds.
  • Relax the tailbone toward the heels to stretch the lower back.

Bridge pose

  • Start by lying on the back, with the knees bent and the feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
  • Press the heels down into the mat and lift the tailbone up so that the hips and lower back are off the mat.
  • Reach the hands under the hips and lace the fingers together.
  • Use the abdomen, glutes, and hamstrings to hold the bottom and back up, then release the fingers and slowly lower the tailbone back down.

Plank pose

  • Start on the hands and knees, with the toes tucked under.
  • Lift the 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. The shoulders should be stacked vertically over the wrists.
  • This is similar to a pushup position.
  • Hold for a few seconds, keeping the abdominal muscles engaged, then slowly relax down.

Tree pose

  • Start by standing with the right foot flat on the floor and the left foot pointed with only the toes 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 the hands pressed together in front of the chest or hold onto a chair or wall to help with balance.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then repeat with the other leg.

Corpse pose

  • Lie flat on the back with the arms at the sides and the palms facing up.
  • Focus on relaxing the entire body, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.

Focus on breathing patterns of inhaling and exhaling deeply with each pose. Begin with a warmup of at least 5 minutes and end with relaxation of 10 minutes. A person can do the cooldown in Corpse Pose.

Learn how people with metabolic syndrome can benefit from yoga here.

Before starting a yoga program or regimen, people with diabetes should speak with their healthcare provider.

To make yoga a success, a person should keep the following in mind:

Start slowly

Any fitness program will be challenging at first. Overdoing it can result in injury or frustration, so always start slowly and gradually build up the intensity.

Modify the poses if necessary

People can adapt most yoga poses to suit their own strength and flexibility. Beginners, especially, should not expect to perform each pose to the same degree their instructor can.

It is also important to take breaks for water and rest. Using a chair or wall to aid balance may also be helpful.

Talk to the instructor

Many yoga instructors will provide extra help, support, or instruction to new students or those with health conditions or limited physical abilities.

How can a person manage diabetes? Get some tips here.

Maintaining a healthful diet and staying physically active can help people with type 2 diabetes manage their glucose levels. Managing blood sugar is the best way to prevent the complications of diabetes.

Adopting a healthful food and exercise plan can help a person manage their:

  • blood sugar levels
  • weight
  • cholesterol levels
  • blood pressure

These are all important factors to help people with diabetes manage their condition and prevent complications such as heart disease.

People with mobility problems or difficulty balancing can also do yoga, as it is possible to perform some positions while sitting in a chair or holding a support.

In 2016, the American Diabetes Association issued a position statement in which they described the adoption and maintenance of physical activity as “critical” for managing blood glucose and overall health in people with diabetes.

Which foods are good for people with diabetes? Learn more here.

When a person with diabetes starts to exercise, the increase in activity can affect their blood sugar levels. For this reason, it is a good idea to ask a doctor to approve an exercise program before beginning it.

People with diabetes may also have other health problems that affect their ability to exercise, such as neuropathy in the feet. A doctor can advise on a suitable program if this is the case.

Experts consider physical activity essential for people with diabetes, although it is a good idea to start by discussing any plans with a doctor.

Various types of exercise are suitable for people with diabetes, including walking, swimming, strength training, and stretching.

However, yoga may be a particularly good option, as it can help a person manage stress while also improving strength, stamina, and flexibility.

Yoga mats are available for purchase online.

Q:

Is it safe for a person with diabetes to do yoga at home, or should they find a coach?

A:

Each case is different. As noted in the article, a person should obtain medical clearance from their healthcare provider before starting a yoga program. If the individual is not familiar with yoga, it would be a good idea to enlist the services of a coach, as improper form has the potential to cause injury.

Daniel Bubnis, M.S., NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.