Exercise and Diabetes

Exercise and Diabetes

November 26, 2019

Exercise, or physical activity, includes anything that gets you moving, such as walking, biking, or swimming. Regular physical activity is important for everyone, but it is crucial for people with diabetes and those at risk for diabetes. Diabetes is a problem with your body that causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal. This is also called hyperglycemia. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time, it isn't able to keep up and can't make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose at normal levels.

Type 1 Diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. The body breaks down the carbohydrates you eat into blood glucose (also called blood sugar), which it uses for energy. Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, you can learn to manage your condition and live a long, healthy life.

Exercise and Diabetes

When you exercise, your body needs extra energy from blood sugar, also called glucose. Your muscles take up much more glucose when you do that. This helps lower your blood sugar levels.

There are a few ways that exercise lowers blood glucose:

  • Insulin sensitivity is increased, so your muscle cells are better able to use any available insulin to take up glucose during and after activity.
  • When your muscles contract during activity, your cells are able to take up glucose and use it for energy, whether insulin is available or not.

Consequently, this is how exercise can help lower blood glucose in the short term. And when you are active on a regular basis, it can also lower your A1C.

The A1C test is a blood test that provides information about your average levels of blood glucose over the past three months. The A1C test can be used to diagnose type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.1 The A1C test is also the primary test used for diabetes management.


A1C Results and What the Numbers Mean

Diagnosis* A1C Level
Normal below 5.7 percent
Prediabetes 5.7 to 6.4 percent
Diabetes 6.5 percent or above

Aerobic Exercise and Strength Training

Two types of physical activity are most important for managing diabetes: aerobic exercise and strength training.

Aerobic exercise helps your body use insulin better. It makes your heart and bones strong, relieves stress, improves blood circulation, and reduces your risk for heart disease by lowering blood glucose and blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels.

Strength training makes your body more sensitive to insulin and can lower blood glucose. It helps to maintain and build strong muscles and bones, reducing your risk for osteoporosis.

Finally, it's the age-old question: hit the weight room first or the treadmill?

For people with type 1 diabetes, that decision may affect their risk of going low after exercising. Researchers monitored blood glucose levels in 12 study participants during and after a 90-minute workout, starting with either 45 minutes of aerobic exercise and then switching to resistance training or the other way around. Participants who ran on a treadmill before weight-lifting experienced a steep decline in blood glucose during that session and then continued to trend low, spending an average of 105 minutes under 63 mg/dl overnight. Those who lifted weights first didn't dip as low, needed to eat fewer grams of carbohydrate to maintain blood glucose levels during exercise, and spent only 48 minutes low overnight.

In conclusion, exercise is critical to anyone battling any type of diabetes. Enjoy exercise and keep it a regular part of your life!

Exercise and Diabetes

Gary Siegel


Gary Siegel is certified through the American Council on Education (ACE) and continues his education on a monthly basis. Gary is affiliated with several physicians in the area including Endocrinologists, Nutritionists and Vascular Surgeons who regularly refer patients to him. He is passionate about helping them with their battle with Diabetes, Hypertension and Heart Disease and to helping those who are recovering from various types of surgery. Gary owns and operates Fitness Matters Gym personal training.