Reducing diabetes through exercise


Diabetes is a condition characterised by high blood glucose levels. There are two main types:


Type 1

  • Inherited
  • Can develop at any age
  • The immune system attacks cells in the pancreas so it is unable to produce insulin. Low insulin levels results in the body being unable to regulate blood glucose.

Management by insulin injections to balance blood glucose throughout the day.


Type 2

  • Most common – 90% of UK adults with diabetes have Type 2 (Diabetes UK)
  • Causative factors include: excess fat mass, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity and genetics.
  • Cells no longer respond to insulin properly and over time the pancreas produces less insulin. Low insulin levels reduces glucose absorption, increasing levels in the blood.

Management through lifestyle changes. Increasing physical activity and good dietry habits can be effective treatments, although in some cases medications and insulin injections are prescribed.


Cardiovascular disease is responsible for 52% of deaths in those with diabetes (Diabetes UK).

Over time, high blood glucose can damage the lining of your blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis (a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries). This can lead to narrowing and hardening of the vessels, which restricts the amount of blood flow to the heart, increasing your risk of angina and heart attack. High blood glucose can also damage the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart failure. There are other common long-term consequences linked to diabetes such as blindness, numbness in hands and feet, amputations and kidney disease.


Management of diabetes through lifestyle changes.

Leading a healthy lifestyle can positively impact the short-term management and long-term development of diabetes. This includes a mix of regular cardiovascular and resistance exercise and making healthy nutritional changes.

  • Exercise will increase the utilisation of glucose as a fuel for muscular contraction, lowering blood glucose post-session.
  • Exercise can also increase the storage of glucose in the working muscle, reducing the amount in the blood stream over-time.
  • Physical activity helps the body use insulin more efficiently, increasing the sensitivity of cells.
  • Being active reduces the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease through improving body composition, blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Complex carbohydrates, high in fibre, such as whole grain foods, provide a slower release of glucose into the system.
  • A balanced diet in small and frequent portions throughout the day, helps regulate blood glucose, so you do not experience large drops in levels (see Graph a).


Graph a. Changes in blood glucose throughout the day when eating 3 large meals compared to eating 5 smaller meals. 

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CP+R Top Tips

  • Regularly measure your blood glucose pre- and post- sessions. This can indicate whether glucose levels are going up after exercise, which may indicate you are not effectively responding to insulin.
  • If your blood glucose levels are below 3.60 mmol/l and/or you are feeling unwell prior to exercise, ensure you take on some carbohydrates to reduce experiencing hypoglycaemia.
  • Always have your personal treatment with you, including a sugary snack. In each clinic we have Dextrose energy tablets or banana’s available.
  • Your medications may alter with a change in lifestyle, so it’s important to have regular check ups.
  • If you experience foot problems, inspect your feet daily and wear correctly fitting shoes.