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Leisure-time physical activities – especially yoga – lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes

Pai L, Li T, Hwu, Y et al. The effectiveness of regular leisure-time physical activities on long-term glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. 2016;113:77-85.

Review question

Which exercises done during leisure time are best at improving blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes?


In people with type 2 diabetes, the body does not properly produce and/or respond to the hormone insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels. Research has shown that leisure-time physical activities (eg. walking, yoga) can improve blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. However, these activities have not been compared to see which are the most effective in helping people control their blood sugar levels.

How the review was done

This is a review and meta-analysis of 18 randomized control trials that included a total of 915 participants. All the trials were found to be of high quality.

  • All participants had type 2 diabetes and were between the ages 35 and 71.
  • Study participants took part in walking, tai chi, qi-gong, or yoga for a minimum of 30 minutes at least twice a week for 8 or more weeks.
  • Researchers measured changes in participants’ blood sugar levels (HbA1c) after participating in the exercise programs.
  • Results were compared to control groups who did not participate in the leisure-time physical activity programs.

What the researchers found

People who participated in leisure-time physical activities regularly for 8 or more weeks had significant improvements in blood sugar levels. Yoga was the most effective leisure activity to lower blood sugar, followed by tai chi and walking. People who did these activities more often had bigger improvements in their blood sugar levels.


Leisure-time physical activities – especially yoga – appear to be an effective way to improve blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. People who do these activities more frequently are more likely to benefit.


Control group
A group that receives either no treatment or a standard treatment.
Advanced statistical methods contrasting and combining results from different studies.

Related Web Resources

  • Type 2 diabetes: Patient FAQ

    Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care
    Find answers to frequently asked questions about type 2 diabetes in this resource. Help prevent diabetes: eat a healthy diet and limit fat, salt and alcohol, control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and do not smoke.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Patient FINDRISC

    Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care
    Use this risk calculator to find out your risk for type 2 diabetes and see if you should be tested. Many people with diabetes have no symptoms. Speak to your doctor if you notice diabetes symptoms such as unusual thirst, the need to pee a lot, lack of energy, blurred vision, tingling or numbness in your hands or feet.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Screening for adults

    Health Link B.C.
    People at average risk for type 2 diabetes should be tested every 3 years after age 40. You may need to be tested more frequently if you are at higher risk. Find out your risk with the Canadian Diabetes Risk Assessment Questionnaire (link in this resource).
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