An ancient form of Chinese exercise may hold hope for staving off a modern illness - type 2 diabetes, according to a university researcher.

People with - or at risk of developing - diabetes who took part in preliminary studies of a tai chi-based program recorded falls in blood pressure, weight and blood sugar levels.

Many reported decreases in depressive symptoms after their involvement in the classes, designed by University of Queensland researcher Liu Xin.

Dr Liu said the program had been tailored to benefit people with, or at risk of, type 2 diabetes and included movements to specifically exercise the pancreas, which is involved in digestion and in the regulation of blood sugar levels.

"Like in designing or producing medication, we need to target the disease specifically," Dr Liu said.

"Different movements target different internal organs."

Shirley Fraser said she signed up to a trial of Dr Liu's program after watching her father struggle with the effects of type 2 diabetes towards the end of his life.

She attended the tai chi classes for up to 90 minutes a day, three days a week, for three months and also performed the exercises at home. Although the program did not involve a change of diet, she lost 10kg.

She said her blood pressure and blood sugar levels had also improved.

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