We all know that exercise is important to stay fit and healthy, but how can exercise help to manage diabetes? Exercising may seem complicated or worrying if you have diabetes, but there are plenty of reasons not to let that put you off.

Exercise boosts your body’s sensitivity to insulin

Exercise helps to counter insulin resistance so that your body can use insulin better. When you exercise, your insulin resistance goes down, so your cells can use the glucose more effectively.

Exercise can help high blood pressure

Around 80 per cent of people with diabetes have high blood pressure. With high blood pressure comes the prospect of complications for diabetics. Exercise is a medication-free route to improving your blood pressure by strengthening your heart. Consistency is key and it’ll take one to three months of regular exercise to see a difference to your blood pressure. Keep on exercising to maintain those results!

Exercise helps avoid complications with Type 2 diabetes

Exercise can reduce the amount of glucose in your blood. Muscles can use glucose without insulin during exercise, helping your cells to use glucose more effectively. For people who are insulin resistant, exercise will make your insulin work better.

Exercise combats heart disease

Did you know that a quarter of people who end up in hospital with a stroke, heart attack or heart failure have diabetes? Unfortunately, if you have diabetes, you’re likely to develop blocked arteries.

By exercising, you’ll keep your heart healthy and strong and you’ll maintain good cholesterol levels. Avoiding high cholesterol and the build-up of plaque that can stop blood from passing easily through your arteries is the best way to help keep your heart healthy. You can find out more about diabetes and heart disease here.

Exercise helps weight loss

Exercise is often the key to achieving a healthy weight. Carrying extra weight around your waist means fat can build up around your organs, like your liver and pancreas, which can lead to insulin resistance. For diabetics, losing weight can help improve your body’s ability to respond to insulin resistance in the right way. Even if it doesn’t help to achieve a better blood glucose level, being at the right weight is important to overall health. You’ll feel more energised and lessen the risk of stroke or heart disease.

Exercise can help to reverse Type 2 diabetes

If you have Type 2 diabetes, weight loss of, say, 15kg may put your diabetes into remission – with that, you could ditch your diabetes medication, perhaps permanently. The sooner and quicker you can lose weight once diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the more likely you can put it into remission. There’s no guarantee that your diabetes will be gone forever as it’s an ongoing disease, but exercise can certainly help you to try for reversal. Bear in mind that the amount of weight you’ll need to lose means you’ll need to look at adjusting your diet, too.

Exercising with Type 1 diabetes

Managing your blood sugars before, during and after exercising might sound complicated, but this shouldn’t put you off the physical and feel-good benefits of getting – and staying – fit. There are lots of helpful pointers on exercising safely with Type 1 diabetes on runsweet.com and your diabetes team will be able to give you plenty of advice.

Any exercise is good exercise

Whether you go for aerobic or resistance exercise, you’ll still benefit. That means both aerobic activities like cycling, running, swimming or walking and training with weights or doing strength-building exercises will give you positive results.

Aerobic exercise will keep your heart healthy, while strength training twice a week will help you with blood sugar control – you can use your own body weight, resistance bands or weights.

Exercising with complications

Adjust what you do if you need to workarounds for complications. For example, with foot ulcers, load-bearing exercises are probably going to be uncomfortable, but chair-based exercises can work well. Make sure you get medical advice from your diabetes team before starting an exercise programme if you have eye, heart or blood pressure problems.

When to exercise

One to three hours after eating is the best time to exercise – this is when your blood sugar level is most likely to be higher. Remember to test your blood sugar first if you take insulin. If you need to increase your blood sugar level, have a snack or a piece of fruit before you begin your activity.

Play safe

Keep hypo treatments handy and wear a diabetes ID bracelet if you’re out and about, in case you need any help.

Exercise is an important part of managing diabetes, enabling you to improve blood sugar levels and heart health and achieve a healthier weight. You’ll feel and sleep better and will have more energy, as well – with so much to gain,  there are plenty of incentives to start planning your exercise programme now! There are lots of ideas on how to get fit here.

Medical information. This is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for advice by a doctor or other qualified healthcare professional. Patients should not use the information on the Active Patients website for diagnosing a health or fitness problem or disease. Patients should always consult with a doctor or other health professional for medical advice or information about diagnosis and treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice because of something you have read on Active Patients.