Alongside diet, exercise is an important element of the lifestyle management of diabetes, as well as being preventive against the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Exercise need not be hard work and can be effective if done in a way that is enjoyable. Staying active simply through outdoor activities such as walking and gardening or through favorite games such as tennis is a valid approach.
Before embarking on any new exercise activity, it is worth discussing it first with a health care professional, especially if there are any diabetes complications present. Starting slowly is also important in with any new activity.
Why is exercise important in diabetes?
Two main factors are behind the need to maintain regular physical exercise:3
- Exercise helps with weight loss
- Exercise is good for heart health, helping to prevent diabetes complications.
Physical activity also raises the use of glucose by muscles and so can lower blood glucose levels. Regular activity can also help reduce the amount of insulin needed to control blood sugar levels by improving the body’s insulin efficiency.4
What exercise is best with diabetes?
People with diabetes should increase their level of exercise gently, building up to a maximum level that remains comfortable.3
Although some experts consider aerobic exercise to be best, lower-intensity exercise such as swimming can be just as beneficial.
In the US, the Community Preventive Services Task Force run diabetes prevention programs that help with increasing exercise and improving diet for people at risk of, or newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. These programs may include:
- Goals toward weight loss
- Individual and group education sessions on diet and exercise
- Meetings with diet and exercise counselors
- Individually designed diet and exercise plans.
Some experts consider aerobic exercise to be best, in which the heart rate and rate of breathing go up considerably.3 Lower-intensity exercise such as swimming is as much of an option for keeping healthy as higher-impact exercise such as running, however.
The American Heart Association has an easy-to-remember general recommendation for exercise goals – take part in 30 minutes of moderate exercise on 5 days of the week, reaching a total of 150 minutes a week. In addition, on 2 days a week, some moderate-to-high-intensity muscle strengthening activity is suggested.
More intensive goals are recommended for lowering certain risk factors, but individuals with diabetes should seek help with tailoring their exercise to meet their personal circumstances and goals.
Exercise and glucose control
Physical activity increases the use of glucose, so patients who experience symptoms of hypoglycemia during exercise need to monitor their blood glucose and increase carbohydrate intake or lower their insulin dose accordingly. Glucose levels need to be just above normal ahead of starting an activity.
If hypoglycemia occurs during vigorous exercise, it may be necessary to ingest carbohydrates – around 5-15 grams of a simple sugar such as sucrose, for example.
What’s the best exercise for type 2 diabetes?
This video, by YourUpdate, discusses a randomized control trial that found that both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise improved blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.