Diabetes and Exercise – Your Common Questions and Exercise Ideas

A common misconception is that if you cut out sugar, you’ll be cured of diabetes.

This is incorrect for two reasons. Firstly, there’s no evidence that refined sugar alone has resulted in the development of diabetes. Secondly, diabetes can’t be ‘cured’, however, it can be effectively managed through exercise.

Let’s start with what diabetes actually is. Diabetes is a condition that affects the way the body uses blood glucose (blood sugar), which is controlled by a hormone called insulin. Type 1 diabetes happens when the body doesn’t produce any insulin and type 2 diabetes is when there’s a gradual decrease in the effectiveness of insulin. With both type 1 and 2, the body struggles to control blood sugar levels.

Despite the name ‘blood sugar’ suggesting a somewhat obvious connection between the consumption of sugar and high blood sugar levels, diabetes is actually the result of a number of other issues impairing the body’s natural ability to regulate insulin and blood sugar.

In fact, the top six causes of type 2 diabetes are:
1. Genetics
2. Hormones
3. Insulin resistance
4. Obesity
5. Stress
6. Lifestyle

For more information, visit our article on what causes diabetes.

Exercise will help manage some of the causes mentioned above.
As diabetes nutrition specialist Sharon Movsas summarises, “Exercising is the most underused treatment and it’s so, so powerful”.

But, before we delve into the wonderful benefits of exercise, if you do have diabetes it’s important to get expert advice from your doctor before you begin working out. For most people with diabetes, exercise is a safe and highly recommended way to reduce the risk of complications. However, it’s worth checking in with your doctor to make sure you don’t have any problems.

Diabetes and Exercise: Your Common Questions

Why does exercise help type 2 diabetes?

Regular exercise is important for your general health and wellbeing but it specifically helps those with type 2 diabetes by:

  • Controlling the body’s blood sugar level
  • Preventing heart problems

How does exercise affect blood sugar levels in people living with diabetes?

When you have diabetes, you have too much glucose in your blood.
Either because your body doesn’t produce enough insulin to process it or because the body is insulin resistant.

In both scenarios, exercise does wonders. When exercising, your muscles increase the amount of glucose used,
lowering the body’s overall blood glucose (sugar) levels. And if you’re insulin resistant, exercise makes your insulin more effective.

Can you work out if you have diabetes?

To put it simply – yes you can! If you’re overweight, exercise can seem daunting and it’s important to speak to your doctor before you start exercising to ensure you don’t have any heart problems, nerve damage, or other issues that need special consideration when you are working out.

How does physical activity help prevent type 2 diabetes?

There are three ways exercise can prevent type 2 diabetes:

1. Reduces stress

Physical activity improves your body’s ability to use oxygen and improves blood flow both of which have a positive effect on your brain, reducing stress levels.

2. Reduces obesity

If you’re overweight, you’re more likely to develop diabetes. And the best way to keep weight off is to burn it off through exercise.

3. Promotes a healthy lifestyle

A lifestyle that consists of minimal exercise, consumption of fatty foods and high levels of stress has been found to increase the chances of developing diabetes. Exercising makes you more aware of what you’re putting in your body and, as mentioned above, exercise reduces stress. All in all, exercise promotes a healthy lifestyle as opposed to an unhealthy one.

Which exercise is good for diabetes?

There are lots of activities out there that are great for managing diabetes. Before you start working out, run it past your doctor and check your blood sugar before and after exercise to see how your body is responding to it.

30 minutes of exercise a day is recommended but it’s important to start slow and build it up if you’re not used to exercise. In terms of the type of exercise for diabetes, one study found that both aerobic and resistance training is good but the improvements are greatest when both types of exercise are undertaken.

We recommend the following exercises:


This easy-to-do aerobic exercise can be built into your routine. Pick up the pace to really get your heart rate going.

Weight training

Strength training exercises like lifting weights helps you to build muscle mass. Your body uses glucose from your bloodstream to power your muscles, which clears the excess glucose from your body. This is great news for those with diabetes!


A number of studies have found that yoga can reduce stress levels – one leading cause of diabetes. It also helps lower body fat and can be a relaxing and revitalising exercise to kick start your day.

Stationary bicycling

A great way to burn fat, this inside aerobic activity is great for all-year round exercise and there’s no need to buy a bike or worry about flat tyres!


Swimming is another ideal aerobic exercise as it doesn’t put pressure on feet or joints which are often sore points for those with diabetes.

Finally, don’t forget to fuel your body before you exercise. Carbohydrates play an important role in making sure you have energy to exercise and we have some delicious recipes which make for the perfect pre-workout meal. Visit our super healthy recipe section and stay healthy!

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