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Why is exercise important in managing diabetes?

This article is part of the Diabetes toolkit: Your complete guide to type 2 diabetes.

Exercise has many benefits: it increases circulation, burns up energy, helps to keep blood glucose levels well controlled and keeps weight down, as well as making you feel good! It may also lead to a reduction in the dose of insulin or tablets that you need to take.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), anyone with type 2 diabetes should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity, or at least 90 minutes of vigorous activity, each week to improve glycaemic control, assist with weight management and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The ADA also recommends this exercise be distributed over at least three days of the week, with no more than two consecutive days without physical activity. This equates to a minimum of 22 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day.

Weight-loss aside, US research shows that more than four hours of exercise each week can result in a significant reduction in the risk of diabetes for people with pre-diabetes. Most importantly, if people with type 2 diabetes make exercise a regular part of their life, their risk of early mortality decreases substantially.

Exercise with weights – three times a week

Just like aerobic exercise, resistance training improves both insulin sensitivity in the muscles and blood glucose control. Research shows that resistance training increases lean muscle mass, which is associated with a decrease in HbA1c (a measure of a person’s average glucose levels over the previous two to three months).

People with well-controlled type 2 diabetes will ideally engage in resistance exercise that targets all major muscle groups three times per week. The ADA recommends three sets of eight to 10 repetitions for each muscle group, using a weight heavy enough that your muscles are fatigued after eight to 10 repetitions.

To get started: Download the beginner’s exercise plan.

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