Diabetes and Exercise: What’s the Link?

What is the link between diabetes and exercise?

If you're a type I or II diabetic, you're probably already very well versed in ways to help manage your blood sugar that involve your diet or medication regimen. But did you know that a person with diabetes can also improve their health by being active? It's true! The link between exercise and diabetes is becoming more evident as the research continues to come out. Exercise can be used to manage blood glucose and also to improve morning glucose levels. When exercise is paired with medications, patients can have better control over their blood sugar, leading to fewer complications down the line.

But what kinds of activities should a person do for proper diabetic management? Are there different types of exercises for different types of diabetes? Should one be exercising everyday or is it more about consistency? What are the benefits of exercise on Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes? To answer these questions and more, this blog will aim to shed light not just on how important exercise is for diabetics, but how you can incorporate it into your life.

What is the connection between exercise and managing diabetes?

Exercise can help control blood glucose levels and reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes, such as heart disease and stroke. Exercise can also help lower your cholesterol levels and improve your weight. Increased physical activity combined with healthy eating enables our muscle cells to use insulin and glucose more efficiently, therefore lowering the risk of diabetes. Lack of exercise can cause muscle cells to lose their sensitivity to insulin, which controls levels of sugar in the blood.

What types of exercise are best for diabetics?

The type of exercise you should do depends on your goals and how much time you have. You should aim for at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. This can include walking fast, cycling or dancing. One way to do this is to try to fit in at least 20 to 25 minutes of activity every day.

If your goal is to lower blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity, strength training may be more effective than aerobic exercise alone. You can also try yoga or Pilates as lower-impact options that are good for total-body conditioning.

On two or more days a week, include activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). Working your large muscles increases your heart rate and makes you breathe harder, which are important goals for fitness. Stretching helps to make you flexible and prevent soreness after being physically active.

Are different types of exercises better suited for different types of diabetes?

Yes and no. While any form of consistent exercise will be beneficial no matter the type of diabetes you have, there are some things to consider. If you have type 1 diabetes, you may want to focus more on aerobic exercise. This can include  jumping rope or jogging for at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) per week. 

If your goal is to lower blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity, strength training may be more effective than aerobic exercise alone. This can include pushups, lunges, and squats which use your own body weight. You should aim to work your whole body. An exercise routine that includes aerobics and strength training may improve blood sugar levels and overall health in people with type II diabetes. The right fitness program for you will vary based on your current health and fitness goals. So, it’s helpful to check with your doctor or other trusted health care provider before starting a new program. 

How does consistency play a role in fitness as relates to diabetes?

Consistency is key. You don’t have to do a lot of exercise one day and then nothing at all the next day. It’s better to do something, even if it’s just walking for 10 minutes around your neighborhood or doing some stretches while watching TV at night. It’s important to move your body at least once a day. Research shows that people with type I diabetes who are more active have lower blood glucose levels than those who aren’t active at all.

What are the benefits of exercise on type I and type II diabetes? The benefits of exercise on type I and type II diabetes are similar, but the intensity and amount of exercise required may be different. The benefits include:

  • Exercise may help lower blood glucose levels in people with type I diabetes
  • Type II diabetes risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index (BMI) levels may improve
  • The manageability of type II diabetes may be improved by increasing physical activity.
Takeaway: It is important to maintain a consistent exercise regime for managing diabetes. Pick something you love and stick with it!

Fitness has always been important for patients with diabetes, but now it is better understood just how beneficial exercise can be to managing the condition. The CDC even states that regular exercise reduces the risk of developing type II diabetes in those at high-risk of developing it. Exercise also helps with maintaining a healthy weight, a key factor in managing and preventing diabetes.

Ways to get started:

  • Find an activity you like- Exercising by doing something you enjoy is important because if you don’t like what you're doing, you won’t stick with it. Find an activity that you and your health care provider agree you can do regularly for the best results.
  • Start small- If you’re not already physically active you should begin slowly and work your way up to the desired level. For example, you could park farther from the door, take the stairs, do yard work, or walk the dog. Start small and gradually add a little more time and intensity each week.
  • Pick a goal- An example of a goal could be to walk a mile every day for a month or to be active every weekday for 30 minutes. Be specific and realistic. Always discuss your activity goals with your health care provider.
  • Schedule it in- the more regular activity you do, the faster it will become a habit. Think of ways to sneak activity into daily life. For example, you could schedule walking with a co-worker after lunch. Try not to go more than two days in a row without being active.
  • Prepare-Before starting any physical activity, check with your health care provider to talk about the best physical activities for you. Be sure to discuss which activities you like, how to prepare, and what you should avoid.

The informa/on in this blog is for informa/onal purposes only and is not intended to be a subs/tute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any ques/ons you may have regarding a medical condi/on or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen.


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