Physical Activity and Diabetes, Best Exercises for Diabetes

Diabetes, often known as diabetes mellitus, is a chronic disease in which too much sugar stays in the bloodstream. When we eat, our food is broken down into sugar, or glucose, which is then released into the circulation, causing the pancreas to create the hormone insulin. Normally, insulin aids your body in converting glucose into energy. However, if your body does not produce enough insulin or has become insulin resistant, you might develop diabetes, which means your body is unable to handle and utilize sugar adequately.

Although there is no cure for diabetes, lifestyle modifications can help you manage the illness and improve your overall health. Exercise, in addition to keeping a healthy body weight and eating a portion of nutritious food, is one of the most efficient strategies to keep your diabetes under control.

exercise and diabetes
Physical Activity and Diabetes, Best Exercises for Diabetes

How does exercise affect diabetes ?

Exercise can help your body maintain appropriate blood glucose management and cholesterol levels, which can help relieve diabetic symptoms in a few ways.

Blood sugar levels

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, physical exercise boosts insulin sensitivity, helping your body to convert blood sugar to energy (CDC). Exercise also helps to manage blood sugar levels, lowering your risk of heart disease as well as nerve damage caused by prolonged high blood sugar levels. If exercise could be bottled and sold as a diabetic therapy, it would have an hour-long glucose-lowering impact.

A regular fitness routine is critical to our overall health. Physical strength, a balanced mood, weight regulation, and blood glucose control are all advantages. Exercise reduces glucose levels and improves insulin responsiveness. There are some exceptions, she notes, but in general, managing your weight with lifestyle changes such as exercise decreases your risk of diabetic problems. Diabetes problems include the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease (nephropathy)
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (dangerously high ketones levels in the body)
  • Skin complications (infections caused by bacteria or fungi, skin eruptions and rashes)
  • Foot complications (neuropathy, or nerve damage, circulation issues)
  • Eye complications (cataracts, glaucoma, and retinopathy)

Exercise stimulates the absorption of blood glucose into muscle cells, which serve as the principal location for the disposal of excess blood sugar. Exercise causes muscle cells to boost their sugar uptake and usage, lowering blood sugar levels. According to Sears, exercise can reduce diabetes risk as well as make it simpler to manage existing diabetes.


According to the American Heart Association, diabetes lowers levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the good cholesterol in the body, and raises levels of triglycerides, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Exercise can assist you in avoiding this.

Exercise helps to alleviate the symptoms of all four forms of diabetes, which are as follows:

  • Type 1 diabetics account for 5% to 10% of all diabetics. It is believed to be the result of an autoimmune reaction in the body that destroys insulin-producing cells (beta cells) in the pancreas. Although this kind of diabetes cannot be reversed, it can be controlled by a mix of good lifestyle choices and insulin shots.
  • Type 2 diabetes is the most prevalent, accounting for more than 90% of all diabetics. Patients with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance, which means their cells do not react appropriately to insulin. As a result, the pancreas goes into overdrive but is unable to keep up, resulting in increased blood sugar levels. Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, but it may be controlled and even reversed with exercise, particularly when a healthy, low-cholesterol, low-glycemic diet is followed (along with weight loss when needed).
  • Prediabetes is a chronic disease in which blood sugar levels are continuously increased but not high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes. A regular exercise plan can aid in the reversal of prediabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that develops in women during pregnancy. Despite the fact that blood sugar levels normally return to normal after the baby is born, up to 50% of women with gestational diabetes will acquire Type 2 diabetes. Diet and exercise provide significant health advantages that help to prevent this from happening.

Is it safe to exercise if you have diabetes ?

Physical activity is suggested for people with all forms of diabetes, but before starting an exercise program, consult your doctor for a pre-exercise medical clearance. This will provide you insight into the forms of exercise that are ideal for you and give you the go-ahead to begin. If you have diabetic problems, you will need to modify and/or avoid certain activities. If you have diabetic retinopathy, for example, you may be recommended to avoid strength training to minimize further damage.

Precautions must be made for insulin users to reduce the danger of hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), It’s vital for anybody to be hydrated before exercising, but it’s more crucial for diabetics since dehydration can trigger glucose spikes. Aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, biking, and using the elliptical machine are likely to reduce blood glucose levels. Resistance exercise and weight lifting, as well as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), may briefly boost blood glucose levels, which will subsequently decline to lower levels over the next 24-48 hours.

If you want to engage in performance or competitive activity, it may be good to consult with a sports and fitness nutritionist who is also educated about diabetes. Eat a balanced diet of complex carbs, proteins, and fats before doing exercise to provide steady energy.

What’s the best time of day to exercise ?

The main thing to remember about diabetes and exercise is that you’re doing it. The optimum time to exercise is when it is most convenient for your lifestyle. There is no such thing as a perfect moment to exercise; the advantages might be felt two to 48 hours later. To guarantee good sleep, it is best not to exercise for at least two hours before going to bed.

How much exercise should I get ?

The recommended amount of exercise each week is 150 minutes. So, 30 minutes of aerobic activity, such as walking, five days a week would be enough to satisfy the activity goal. The CDC also recommends including at least two times per week activities that target all of your major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, belly, chest, shoulders, and arms).

When should I check my blood sugar ?

When working out with diabetes, a reasonable rule of thumb is to check your blood sugar before, during, and after exercise. If you are using a drug that is known to induce low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), such as insulin, you should check your blood sugar 30 minutes before activity, and if you feel signs of low blood glucose during exercise, you should check your blood sugar. It is critical to always have a sugar snack on hand while exercising in case of hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, weariness, hunger, shivering, heart palpitations, and mood disturbances.

Having a medical ID is essential for the prevention and management of this emergency. She urges patients to check their blood sugar again 30-60 minutes after exercise and believes that using a continuous glucose monitor is particularly useful in this respect.

How much exercise is too much for a diabetic ?

If you push yourself too hard, your body will tell you. Listen to your body, and if you feel short of breath or muscular discomfort, slow down and take a rest. Stop exercising if you have any of the hypoglycemic symptoms. Headache, weariness, shakiness, muscular cramps, vision abnormalities, or lightheadedness are other crucial warning symptoms.

Best exercises for diabetes

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) advises that patients with diabetes of all types undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity and/or 90 minutes of intense exercise each week. According to Sears, it is critical to combine both aerobic and strength training into your fitness program. Aim for three to five days of aerobic activity per week and two to three days of weight training per week. Non-exercise activity should ideally involve mobility throughout the day and the avoidance of extended sitting.

Aerobic activity, such as walking, improves glucose management, increases insulin sensitivity, and lowers diabetes-related cardiovascular risk factors, according to study. Although walking is not a treatment for diabetes, it is an efficient technique to reduce blood sugar levels after meals. Aerobic exercise examples include:

  • Walking
  • Using stairs instead of an elevator or escalator
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Rowing
  • Dancing
  • Skating
  • Raking leaves or gardening
  • Cleaning

Exercise for Type 2 diabetes

Resistance training is an excellent kind of exercise for regulating glucose homeostasis in Type 2 diabetes, according to research. Resistance training entails:

  • Lifting weights
  • Resistance band exercises
  • Body weight exercises like lunges and planks
  • Balance Training
  • Yoga/Tai Chi
  • Pilates

Exercise for gestational diabetes

Walking and yoga are excellent techniques for women with gestational diabetes to be limber, active, and control their blood sugar levels. However, for information on gestational diabetes management, speak with a healthcare specialist.

It is suggested that women with gestational diabetes engage in 20-30 minutes of moderate physical exercise every day. This will be determined by the individual’s degree of fitness and conditioning previous to pregnancy. If someone was inactive previous to pregnancy, moderate exercise may be brisk walking, but the moderate activity would be considered differently if they trained for triathlons.

Exercises to avoid

There are no specific workouts to avoid if you have diabetes, but keep an eye out for symptoms like dizziness, hazy vision, imbalance, disorientation, a high heart rate, and shakiness, which might signal low blood glucose.

Exercise and diabetes medications

A pre-exercise medical clearance might help you better understand how frequent activity affects your diabetes. Diabetes medication dosages are frequently reduced when physical exercise is added. Speak with your diabetes care team to develop an exercise plan that includes time, frequency, and intensity guidelines, snack options, medication modifications, and when not to exercise.

Exercise is generally safe when using diabetic meds. Non-insulin medicines, such as metformin, GLP-1 receptor agonists, and SGLT2-inhibitors, are less prone to cause complications. Sulfonylureas are a class of medications that stimulate the body to create more insulin. “These can cause low blood glucose levels, and the amount is difficult to modify prior to activity from day to day,” she explains. It is critical for insulin users to collaborate with their healthcare physician to arrange dose and schedule that is specific to their exercise regimen.

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