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The Role of Exercise in Diabetes: It’s Importance and Effective Exercises

Updated on: Apr 29, 2024
6 min Read
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We all know exercise is important, but it’s especially crucial if you have diabetes. This blog will show you how staying active helps control diabetes and why it’s so important.

We’ll cover everything from how exercise affects your blood sugar to safe workout tips. Whether you’re just starting or looking to improve your routine, let’s find out how exercise can help you manage diabetes better.

Let’s get started!

How Exercise Affects Blood Sugar Levels

To truly understand how exercise helps in diabetes, you must first understand the changes in your body during physical activity.

  • When you exercise, your muscles work harder and require more glucose, the body’s primary fuel.
  • To meet this demand, your muscles draw glucose from the bloodstream, naturally reducing blood sugar levels.
  • Interestingly, this process can occur in an insulin-independent manner, where muscle cells take up glucose without the need for insulin.
  • Simultaneously, exercise enhances insulin sensitivity, meaning – your body becomes more efficient at using available insulin to absorb glucose during and after physical activity.
  • This beneficial effect can persist for hours or even days, significantly contributing to your overall blood sugar management.

Importance of Exercise in Diabetes

Research says that, exercise isn’t just about weight management; it’s a fundamental part of diabetes care.

It helps control blood sugar levels, reduces cardiovascular risk (a significant concern for people with diabetes), improves mood, and enhances overall physical fitness.

But the key is consistency. Regular activity helps maintain these benefits over time, making it crucial not only to start an exercise regimen but to stick with it.

Understanding the immediate effects of exercise on blood sugar levels is equally important, especially for effective diabetes management.

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How Much Blood Sugar Drop is Seen After Exercise?

Research says that, exercise is very effective for managing type 2 diabetes as it helps lower blood sugar levels. Here’s a simple breakdown of how exercise can reduce blood sugar:

Parameter Effect on Blood Sugar* (Type 2 Diabetes)
Immediate Drop (mg/dL) 30-70 mg/dL decrease during and after exercise
Prolonged Effect on A1C (%) 0.5% to 0.7% decrease in HbA1c from regular exercise


Workout Type Blood Glucose Drop Range* (mg/dL)
Light 30-45 mg/dL
Moderate 45-60 mg/dL
Intense 60-70 mg/dL
  • Light Exercise can include activities like slow walking or gentle stretching.
  • Moderate Exercise generally involves brisk walking, moderate cycling, or light jogging.
  • Intense Exercise could include running, intense cycling, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

The effects of exercise on blood sugar can differ greatly from person to person, influenced by the kind of exercise, its intensity, length, diet, medications, and starting blood sugar levels.

It’s important to regularly check your blood sugar and talk to a fitness coach (physiotherapist) to adjust your exercise and treatment plans properly.

*These ranges are approximations and the actual blood sugar drop can vary based on individual health status, the duration of the activity, and whether the individual is on diabetes medication.

Why You Experience High Blood Sugar After Exercise?

When you exercise, adrenaline is released, which leads the liver to increase glucose release in your blood. A spike in blood sugar levels after exercise is normal and usually not a concern.

To Manage and Prevent these Spikes, Try these Strategies:

Simple and Effective Exercises You Can Do at Home

Incorporating exercise into your daily routine doesn’t require expensive equipment or a gym membership. Here are some simple activities that can make a big difference:

1. Walking: Walking is one hassle-free form of exercise that can be done even at home. Just use your home passage as a stretch to walk. Depending on the space, you can even try brisk walking.

Walking exercise in diabetes

2. Stretching: Keeping your muscles flexible and your joints limber can subtly but profoundly affect your overall well-being.

The best part is that several stretching exercises, such as neck roll, ankle roll, hip rotation, etc., can be done easily at home or even at your work desk in the office.

Stretching exercise for diabetes

3. Strength Training: Using body weight for exercises like squats and push-ups or even household items like a 1-litre water bottle as improvised weights can help build muscle and increase insulin sensitivity.

Strength Training exercise in diabetes

While these exercises are beneficial, it’s also crucial to be aware of the types of exercises that may need to be avoided or modified due to potential risks associated with diabetes.

Things To Avoid While Exercising with Diabetes

Exercise is crucial for managing diabetes effectively, but certain activities may pose risks, especially if you have specific complications associated with diabetes.

Here are some considerations and exercises that might need to be avoided or modified:

1. High-Impact Activities

People with diabetes, especially those with existing neuropathy (nerve damage), might need to avoid high-impact activities that put a lot of stress on the feet and joints, such as running or jumping.

These activities can lead to foot injuries, which may not heal well due to poor circulation or diabetic neuropathy.

2. Activities with Rapid Changes in Blood Sugar Levels

Exercises that involve intense, short bursts of activity, like sprinting or heavy weightlifting, can sometimes cause a rapid increase in blood glucose levels due to the stress hormones released.

For someone with diabetes who has difficulty managing blood sugar levels and with existing hypertension, this can complicate glycemic control.

3. Prolonged High-Intensity Exercise

Long-duration, high-intensity exercises can also pose risks, particularly for individuals on insulin or certain diabetes medications that increase the risk of hypoglycemia.

These types of exercises can lead to unexpected drops in blood sugar that can be dangerous if not monitored closely. This is especially true for those people who are new to exercising or are untrained.

4. Exercises Requiring Extensive Periods Without Eating

Our expert Physiotherapy & Fitness Coaches at Fitterfly do not recommend exercising in a fasting state. Activities involving long periods without food access can make blood glucose management challenging.

For instance, hiking or cycling tours without adequate planning for meals or snacks might put one at risk of hypoglycemia.

5. Contact Sports

For those with advanced diabetic retinopathy (eye disease), contact sports such as boxing, football, or martial arts could be risky. A blow to the head can exacerbate bleeding in the eyes or detachment of the retina.

Keeping these precautions in mind, it’s important to discuss safe exercise recommendations tailored for those with diabetes.

What Are the Safe Exercise Recommendations for People with Diabetes?

1. Consult With Your Physiotherapist or Fitness Expert: Before starting any new exercise regimen, it’s crucial for those with diabetes to consult with their physiotherapist or fitness expert.

This step ensures that any underlying complications are considered and proper precautions are taken.

2. Monitor Blood Glucose Levels: Regular monitoring before and after exercise helps understand how different activities affect blood sugar and adjust the exercise plan accordingly.

3. Wear Appropriate Footwear: Always wear well-fitting, comfortable shoes and consider using orthotic inserts to protect the feet.

4. Stay Hydrated and Carry Carbohydrates: Keeping hydrated and having quick-acting carbohydrates on hand can help manage blood sugar levels during and after exercise.

5. Modified Exercises: Instead of high-impact or high-intensity workouts, individuals with diabetes might consider low-impact exercises like walking, swimming or yoga.

How We At Fitterfly Can Help You?

At Fitterfly, we’re here to support everyone with diabetes who wants to stay active and healthy. Our fitness coaches really understand how exercise and diabetes interact.

They’re ready to work with you to create an exercise plan that fits just right, considering your health, preferences, and lifestyle.

We’ll help you find exercises that you enjoy and are safe for you, ensuring you feel confident and motivated.

Call us on 08069450746, and let’s tackle diabetes management together with Fitterfly’s Diabetes Care Program, one step at a time!

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This blog provides general information for educational and informational purposes only and shouldn't be seen as professional advice.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can diabetes be controlled by exercise?

Yes, exercise can play a crucial role in controlling diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and helping to lower blood glucose levels. Regular physical activity is part of a comprehensive management plan that also includes diet and medication as prescribed by your doctor or experts. At Fitterfly, our Diabetes Prime program considers exercise one of the main pillars of diabetes management, alongside a balanced diet, proper sleep, and effectively managed stress. We understand that exercise needs vary from person to person, which is why we build personalized exercise plans for you, ensuring your routine is tailored to meet your specific health requirements and lifestyle preferences.

Can walking 30 minutes a day lower blood sugar?

Absolutely! Walking for just 30 minutes a day can significantly impact blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity and helping the muscles absorb glucose during and after the activity. This showcases the importance of exercise for diabetes management and can help manage or even lower blood sugar levels over time.

What are the best exercises for diabetes?

The best exercises for diabetes are those that you enjoy and can perform consistently. Generally, a combination of aerobic exercises (like walking, swimming, or cycling) and resistance training (like weight lifting or bodyweight exercises) is recommended to maximize the benefits of exercise for diabetes. These activities help control blood sugar levels effectively and underscore the role of exercise in diabetes management.

How does lack of exercise contribute to type 2 diabetes?

Lack of exercise can lead to type 2 diabetes by contributing to weight gain and increased body fat, particularly around the abdomen. This can lead to insulin resistance, where the body does not use insulin effectively, increasing the risk of developing diabetes. This highlights the critical importance of exercise in preventing type 2 diabetes.

When is the best time to walk for diabetics?

The best time to walk for people with diabetes can vary based on individual blood sugar patterns and medication schedules. Many find walking after meals, especially after dinner, can be particularly effective in managing post-meal blood sugar spikes. However, monitoring blood sugar levels and consulting with a physiotherapist or fitness expert is important to determine the most beneficial time for you. This practice underscores the importance of exercise in diabetes care.

- By Fitterfly Health-Team

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