How Does Exercise Impact Diabetes?

Nov 22, 2019

Reading time: 5 Minutes

three women exercising

Over the past 20 years, American adults diagnosed with Diabetes has more than doubled. It is the 7thleading cause of death in the United States, though this may be underreported since 25% of those with this chronic disease are unaware they have it.


Maybe you have heard of diabetes but what do you really know about it? Well…


Did You Know:

  • >100 Million Americans are living with diabetes (30.3 million) or prediabetes (84.1 million)
  • 90% of those with prediabetes do not know they have it
  • There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational
  • Type 2 diabetes makes up about 90-95% of all diagnosed cases
  • Potential diabetes complications include:
    • Heart disease
    • Kidney disease
    • Nerve damage
    • Blindness
    • Lower limb amputations
  • There are lifestyle programs reversing type 2 diabetes and prediabetes
  • The U.S. government's study of the Diabetes Prevention Program found that in 3,000 people who had prediabetes, those who lost 5-7% of their body weight reduced their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58%

Diabetes refers to a group of chronic conditions that impact the way the body generates energy from foods consumed. Normally, when we eat carbohydrate or protein-containing foods, the pancreas releases insulin that allows the body to absorb glucose to be used as energy.


With type 1 diabetes the pancreas is damaged, typically caused by an autoimmune reaction, inhibiting or eliminating insulin production. Without insulin, the body is unable to properly utilize glucose absorbed from foods consumed resulting in elevated blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. For this reason, individuals with type 1 diabetes require daily insulin injections throughout their life.


With type 2 diabetes the pancreas still produces insulin but the cells of the body are unable to respond properly to the insulin. Those with prediabetes commonly progress to type 2 diabetes if lifestyle factors are not adjusted to prevent the progression.


With gestational diabetes the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin during pregnancy to maintain blood glucose levels in a healthy range. Additionally, hormonal changes and weight gain during pregnancy can cause the body to use insulin less efficiently.


All this information may seem pretty dismal, but the reality is there are lots of things we can do in our everyday lives to prevent, manage, and, in some cases, even reverse diabetes!


three women exercising


As you may have guessed, the foods we choose to eat have a huge impact on our blood glucose levels. For the majority of individuals with diabetes, intensive changes in diet to include lots of vegetables, fruits, unprocessed foods, and very little sugar, along with accompanying weight loss, are a core driver in lowering blood sugar levels.


Learn more about nutrition and debunk common diabetes myths in our blogs.


Possibly the most effective lifestyle change we can make to positively impact blood glucose control is being physically active.


Basically, all physical activity has a beneficial effect on insulin effectiveness. How is this possible? In short, nearly all exercise causes muscles to use stored glucose. Depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise, the body can spend the next one to two days working to replenish glucose stores. This effort supports healthy blood glucose levels.


While there are different benefits to aerobic exercise and resistance exercise, both support insulin action and blood glucose control.


Regular exercise is an important part of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes prevention. Weight loss plays a key role in this prevention and regular exercise supports healthy weight loss.


Exercise is a vital part of healthy weight loss as it helps maintain or increase muscle mass and decrease fat mass. Lower levels of body fat, particularly abdominal fat, is associated with reduced risk of type 2 and prediabetes.


Exercise isn’t just for prevention; it is also an important part of treatment for those diagnosed with diabetes. While type 1 diabetes is not reversible, exercise provides several benefits that can improve treatment and quality of life. Physical activity improves insulin sensitivity, often reducing the amount of insulin a person must inject. Exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure, supports healthy weight maintenance, and improves blood glucose control.


For those with diabetes, there are some important factors to consider when exercising.

  • Since exercise effectively reduces blood glucose levels, one must be cautious of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels.
  • Always carry fast-acting carbohydrates to treat low glucose levels. Other snacks should also be kept nearby should more substantial foods be necessary to bring blood glucose levels up to safe levels.
  • Keep your glucometer and supplies with you or close by during exercise.
  • Drink enough water to stay hydrated during exercise. Dehydration can raise blood glucose levels rapidly.


Always talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program, especially if you are taking prescription medications. Work with your doctor, registered dietitian, and certified exercise professional to develop a personalized lifestyle treatment plan to prevent or treat your specific condition.


For members, continue your diabetes education with the Diabetes Management Program at Medi-Share!


Whether you have been recently diagnosed or have been diagnosed for years, our team educates and supports you to successfully manage your health in order to prevent diabetes-related complications.


This program provides you with prayer-based support and guidance, a personalized wellness plan, accountability from a nurse and health coach, and research-based solutions from a Biblical perspective. If you are interested in finding out more, please call (800) 264-2562 est. 2537.


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