9 Ways Exercise Protects Against Diabetes

Science says an hour of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise a day lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

By URLife Team
11 Nov 2023

Living with diabetes can introduce unpredictability into your daily life, making it challenging to anticipate how you'll feel or determine the most suitable activities. Athe 2023 study published in the Indian Council of Medical Research – India Diabetes (ICMR INDIAB), around 100 million Indians have diabetes, which is 10.1 crore people. In the midst of this uncertainty, it's crucial to recognise the significance of small victories. Whether you're exploring something new or simply adding a bit more to your existing routine, every step toward increased activity contributes to managing your condition.


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Exercise emerges as a cornerstone in lifestyle therapy, serving as a pivotal element in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes (T2D). An active lifestyle is not just a step—it's a leap towards empowering well-being, especially for the diabetes warriors out there.  The exciting news is that it's not as challenging as it may seem! For people with diabetes, regular exercise aids in weight management, reduces blood pressure, lowers harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while elevating healthy HDL cholesterol, strengthens muscles and bones, alleviates anxiety, and enhances overall well-being. Specifically for individuals with diabetes, exercise plays a crucial role in reducing blood glucose levels and improving the body's responsiveness to insulin, countering insulin resistance.


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The Role of Exercise In Diabetes Prevention

Moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise emerges as a torchbearer in the battle against excess weight, a known risk factor for diabetes, by increasing overall fat-burning. The transformative potential of a simple yet impactful activity like brisk walking also came to the forefront. 

In a 2022 revelation, a study published in the journal Diabetes Care highlighted that each additional 1,000 steps taken per day correlated with a noteworthy 6 per cent reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes. Remarkably, individuals who engaged in as little as an hour of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise daily exhibited a staggering up to 74 per cent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to their more sedentary counterparts. 

Exercise displayed its effectiveness in optimising glucose regulation and sensitising the body to insulin. This dual action not only enhances the efficiency of insulin but also allows the pancreatic beta cells, responsible for insulin production, to catch a well-deserved break, potentially preventing the progression to type 2 diabetes. 


Related Post: 9 Tips to Reverse Prediabetes Naturally


What is The Ideal Type of Exercise For Diabetes

There's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to physical activity for individuals with diabetes—it's about discovering what suits you best. Your choice of activity depends on various factors like personal preferences, location, and time constraints. The key is to integrate activity seamlessly into your life, making it a complement rather than a disruption. Different exercises offer unique benefits, engaging various parts of your body. For instance, swimming elevates your heart rate and challenges your cardiovascular system, promoting heart health—an especially crucial consideration for those with diabetes, who face an increased risk of complications, including heart disease.

  • Body Weight Exercises: A classic exercise engaging multiple muscle groups, particularly the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Dynamic movements that target the legs, glutes, and core, promoting balance and stability.
  • Resistance Bands: Exercises utilising elastic resistance bands offer a versatile and portable option for strength training. These can include lateral leg raises, bicep curls, or shoulder presses.
  • Dumbbell Exercises: Incorporating free weights like dumbbells provides an effective way to challenge various muscle groups. Examples include bicep curls, squats, and overhead presses.
  • Everyday Activities: Simple yet effective, carrying groceries engages the upper body and core muscles. Activities like digging and lifting pots contribute to both strength and flexibility.

Variety also keeps things interesting. The key is to find joy in movement and make it an integral part of your lifestyle—one that not only aligns with your health goals but also brings a sense of fulfilment and enjoyment.


Related story: 5 Prediabetes Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore


Things To Look Out For Before Exercise

Before diving headfirst into a fitness regimen, it's crucial to secure the green light from your doctor, especially if you've been leading a sedentary lifestyle. 

  • If you are on insulin or other medications that may lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), it's advisable to check your blood sugar levels 15 to 30 minutes before engaging in exercise. This precaution ensures a proactive approach to managing potential blood sugar fluctuations.
  • If you are not using medications for diabetes or are not on medications commonly associated with low blood sugar, you may not require specific precautions before exercising. However, it's always wise to confirm with your doctor to tailor your exercise plan to your individual health needs. 


Related story: Managing Diabetes Naturally

Ways Exercise Protects Against Diabetes 

Exercise plays a crucial role in protecting against diabetes by positively impacting various aspects of health. Here are several ways in which regular physical activity can help prevent and manage diabetes:

  • Improves insulin sensitivity: Exercise helps the body use insulin more efficiently. When you engage in physical activity, your muscles take up glucose from the bloodstream for energy, reducing the reliance on insulin. This improved sensitivity can help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes, where insulin resistance is a key factor.
  • Contributes to weight reduction: Regular exercise contributes to weight loss or weight maintenance. Obesity is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the likelihood of developing the condition.
  • Reduces body fat: Physical activity helps reduce visceral fat, which is the fat stored around internal organs. Excessive visceral fat is associated with insulin resistance and an increased risk of diabetes.
  • Can build muscle health: Building and maintaining muscle mass through exercise can enhance glucose uptake by muscles, promoting better blood sugar control. Strength training, in particular, has been shown to be beneficial in this regard.
  • Improves heart health: Exercise improves heart health by reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. People with diabetes are at a higher risk of heart-related complications, and regular physical activity helps mitigate this risk.
  • Regularises blood pressure: Regular exercise can help control blood pressure, another important factor in preventing diabetes-related complications. High blood pressure is often associated with diabetes and can exacerbate its effects on the body.
  • Enhances blood lipid profile: Exercise can raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, often referred to as "good" cholesterol, and lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This contributes to better lipid profiles, reducing the risk of cardiovascular issues in people with diabetes.
  • Improves blood sugar control: Physical activity helps regulate blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity and promoting the uptake of glucose by muscles. This is crucial for both diabetes prevention and management.
  • Improves pancreatic function: Physical activity has been shown to support the function of the pancreas, the organ responsible for producing insulin. Regular exercise may contribute to maintaining healthy pancreatic function.


It's important to note that before starting any new exercise program, especially for individuals with existing health conditions, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure that the chosen activities are safe and appropriate for individual health needs.


Related story: The Diabetes Guide: How To Balance Your Blood Sugar

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