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Type 2 diabetes and exercise

Regular exercise will be recommended as an important part of managing type 2 diabetes.

For some people, their type 2 diabetes can be managed with diet and exercise without medication.

For others, exercise is vital to help manage blood glucose levels.

The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week, such as cycling or brisk walking.

Talk to your GP or diabetes care team before starting a new exercise programme.

How exercise helps diabetes

Exercise helps control type 2 diabetes by:

  • Improving your body's use of insulin
  • Burning excess body fat, and helping to decrease and control weight - decreased body fat results in improved insulin sensitivity
  • Improving muscle strength
  • Increasing bone density and strength
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Helping to protect against heart and blood vessel disease by lowering 'bad' LDL cholesterol and increasing 'good' HDL cholesterol
  • Improving blood circulation and reducing your risk of heart disease
  • Increasing energy levels and enhancing work capacity
  • Reducing stress, promoting relaxation, and releasing tension and anxiety


How does exercise affect blood sugar levels?

Normally, insulin is released from the pancreas when the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood increases, such as after eating. Insulin stimulates muscle and fat cells to take in excess glucose. This results in a lowering of the blood sugar level.

When exercising, the body needs extra energy or fuel - in the form of glucose - for the exercising muscles. For short bursts of exercise, such as a quick sprint to catch the bus, the muscles and the liver can release stores of glucose for fuel. With continued moderate exercising, however, your muscles take up glucose at almost 20 times the normal rate. This lowers blood sugar levels.

But intense exercise can have the opposite effect and actually increase your blood glucose levels. This is especially true for many people with diabetes. The body recognises intense exercise as a stress and releases stress hormones that tell your body to increase available blood sugar to fuel your muscles. If this happens to you, you may need a little bit of insulin after intense workouts.

For a variety of reasons, after exercise, people with diabetes may have an increase or a decrease in their blood sugar levels.

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