However, researchers who reviewed all the available evidence say that more high quality studies are needed to make more definite conclusions.
Physical activity and exercise are known to improve the health and wellbeing of people who have – or who are at high risk of – type 2 diabetes because it can help improve glucose control and reduce body fat.
The research team, led by the University of Vienna, set out to assess whether aerobic exercises, such as walking, cycling and swimming were better at controlling the symptoms of diabetes than resistance training, in which muscles are strengthened or toned, or whether a combination of the two was more effective.
A total of 14 trials enrolling 915 participants were included in the study, which is published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.
The results show that, for patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, aerobic exercise might be more effective in controlling blood sugar levels compared with resistance training. However, a combined training programme was found to have the most effect on controlling blood sugar levels, reducing blood fats, lowering blood pressure and reducing a person's weight.
However, the authors acknowledge that much of the research they looked at was of poor quality. Also, the studies only looked at patients undergoing intensive, supervised exercise regimes and took no account of how people might combine exercise with the constraints of everyday living.
They conclude: "Further high quality with long-term exercise interventions are needed to develop definitive recommendations. In the meantime, combined aerobic and resistance training can be recommended as part of a lifestyle programme in the management of type 2 diabetes wherever possible.
"Due to the limited information on potential adverse effects of exercise, supervised workouts should be favoured, though of course we accept it is not possible for most people to have supervised workouts in the course of day-to-day living."
'Limited study': Diabetes UK
Commenting on the results in a statement, Dr Richard Elliott, research communications manager at Diabetes UK, says: "A combination of resistance training and aerobic exercise can be a great way to stay fit and healthy, but the claim that they are better than other approaches for controlling blood glucose and blood fat levels was limited in this study by the quality of research reviewed.
"The best way to manage type 2 diabetes is by taking prescribed medications and adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes managing your weight, doing regular physical activity and eating a healthy balanced diet that is low in salt, fat and sugar.
"We recommend that people with type 2 diabetes increase their physical activity by finding an activity they enjoy. This might include things like walking, gardening, housework or DIY."
'Impact of different training modalities on glycaemic control and blood lipids in patients with type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and network meta-analysis', Lukas Schwingshackl et al, Diabetologia.
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