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Exercise for diabetics: dance your way to fitness today!

exercise for diabetics

Exercise for diabetics is one of the most important parts of a healthy lifestyle. If you’re tired of the same old exercise routine, and the thought of putting on your running shoes makes you want to curl up on the couch, it’s time to find something new. Here’s what Nicole McCreedy suggests.

Fun exercise

Dance is a great form of exercise, but most importantly it’s fun. So if motivation is an issue for you, then it may be time to try a dance class.

Dancing is a workout for the whole body. A half hour of vigorous dancing burns as many calories as jogging! But not only is it good for the heart, it’s also a weight-bearing activity. This makes for strong bones that, in turn, may reduce the risk of falling and osteoporosis. Depending on the dance form, it can also help to strengthen muscles in the stomach and thighs, and improve balance, posture, and coordination. Plus, the mental work to remember dance steps and sequences actually boosts brainpower and develops memory.  For those with diabetes, dancing – like other forms of physical activity  – promotes weight loss and lowers blood sugar. Exercise for diabetics can be really fun, which is essential if you’re going to make it part of your daily routine.

And there are so many options to choose from! Whether your style is stomping your feet in gumboots or to ‘sokkie’ on the dance floor with your partner, you can still enjoy the health benefits.

African dance

Gumboot dancing has its roots in South Africa among black mine workers, but is now world-famous. Rhythmic body movements using all parts of the body accompanied by a forward bending motion are characteristic of African dance, and dance steps are performed with the feet and knees facing forward. Percussion often dominates the music – some dance studios hire drummers to accompany classes and rehearsals.


You don’t need to be a great dancer, or be born with rhythm, to have a good time in Zumba classes. The upbeat Latin American rhythms of salsa, flamenco, and merengue music make Zumba classes feel more like a dance party than a workout. But Zumba classes are more than just a good time. Regular weekly attendance at Zumba improves health and fitness levels, and can lead to weight loss.

Indian classical dance

The origin of Indian classical dance stems from sacred Hindu musical theatre styles. The umbrella term, Indian classical dance, includes seven major styles: Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Manipuri, Kathakali, Odissi, Kuchipudi and Mohiniyattam. Indian classical music is played with the dance, and percussion forms part of this musical backdrop. It is common for dancers to wear bells around their ankles to complement the percussion. This form of dance is known to improve physical fitness, tone the body and increase stamina. The concentration required strengthens mental abilities, self-esteem and helps the body-mind relationship.

Ballroom dancing

Styles of ballroom dance include waltz, foxtrot, tango, cha-cha, swing, and others. With very few exceptions, all of these are danced with a partner. People with diabetes attending ballroom or Latin American dance classes are also more likely to keep participating in the activity over time, compared with an exercise programme at home or at the gym. “Studies have also found that compared with traditional cardiac workouts, people with heart conditions who danced for just 20 minutes 3 times a week saw significant improvements in their heart health,” explains Kate Bristow, a Diabetes Specialist Nurse in Pietermaritzburg and the Midlands.

Did you know?

According to a study in “The Arts in Psychotherapy”, the activity of dance releases mood-improving chemicals into our bodies that literally help alleviate depression. Social bonds are also increased in group dance sessions and this helps reduce stress in the long-term.

exercise for diabetics

Exercise for diabetics: how to stay motivated

Staying motivated isn’t hard if you stay flexible and have fun. Eventually, you’ll realize that you’re actually enjoying the workout – and before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to exercising. This is true for kids as well – exercise is essential for kids with diabetes.

We asked biokineticist Ilona Padayachee for a few tips.

Participate in group exercises

Having a friend that holds you accountable is a way of keeping motivated to exercise. Group exercise classes are usually fun, especially if it’s with a group of friends. Here’s how to get started!

Play music

When you feel discouraged or experience a slump in motivation, put on some fun tunes and your mood will soon change.

Don’t make exercise seem like hard work

When you start treating exercise like hard work, that’s exactly what it will become. Your exercise routine should be light, fun and exciting rather than something you have to do. Don’t let yourself get a bad attitude towards exercise: if this happens you’ll be more likely to give up than press on to reach your exercise goals.

Keep an exercise log

Having a visual reminder of the days you work out will keep you motivated to keep going. Also make a note any time you reach your exercise goals: if your clothing fits you better, if you’re feeling and looking healthier, or if your blood sugar levels have stabilised.

Hire a personal trainer

When you start paying for services, you’re more likely to stick to the exercise programme. Most personal trainers will charge you the full rate if you cancel at the last minute, so you’re less likely to do that!

Keep positive

Always try to have a positive attitude towards exercise. A positive mind can help you to achieve all of your exercise goals and remain focused and motivated.

Exercise for diabetics is so important… But it doesn’t have to feel like hard work! Tell us what you enjoy doing – or even share a pic! – on Diabetic South Africans.

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Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

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  1. […] Dancing is a fantastic workout – and so much fun you won’t even notice it! You also get to dress up, not down, and being out of breath is part of the fun… Even if it’s freezing outside, you can still work up a sweat dancing – and you never know who you might meet on the dance floor… […]

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.