People with diabetes exercising

Exercise for Diabetes

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What is Diabetes?

There are two types of diabetes – type 1 diabetes (T1D) and type 2 diabetes (T2D). Around 1.7 million Australians live with diabetes, and 85–90 per cent of those cases are T2D2. 280 people develop diabetes in Australia every day – that’s one person every five minutes2.

T1D is an autoimmune condition where the body’s own immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin helps turn glucose into energy for the body and this is essential to maintain health. The cause of this condition is not known, and the condition is not linked to modifiable risk factors. 

T2D is a condition in which the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin and the pancreas loses the ability to produce enough insulin1. Unlike T1D, it is caused by both non-modifiable risk factors, such as age and gender, and modifiable risk factors, such as weight, diet, and physical activity.

Glucose intolerance starts before T2D develops, and is referred to as ‘prediabetes’. Prediabetes can include impaired fasting glucose, impaired glucose tolerance, and elevated HbA1c, which is a measure of average blood glucose levels over a 3 month period.

There is strong evidence that the risk of developing T2D can be reduced by up to 58% in people who have prediabetes1. This can be achieved by addressing modifiable risk factors, such as improving diet, increasing activity levels, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Risk factors for T2D include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Insufficient physical activity
  • Poor diet
  • High levels of uninterrupted sedentary time

The benefits of exercise for diabetes

There are many well researched benefits of exercise on diabetes and exercise is a key component of managing diabetes2,3. Some of the key benefits of exercising are;

  • Improved glycaemic control
  • Reduced insulin resistance and blood glucose levels
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improved joint, muscle, and bone health
  • Increased cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Improved body composition
  • Enhanced physical functioning and well-being
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Improved sleep

What kind of exercise should I do for diabetes

It is recommended that individuals with diabetes meet the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines4, which say that adults should be active most days, preferably every day. 

Each week, adults should do either:

  • 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity – such as a brisk walk, golf, mowing the lawn, or swimming; or
  • 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity physical activity – such as jogging, aerobics, fast cycling, soccer, or netball; or
  • An equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activities.
  • Include muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.
  • Reduce the time you spend sitting, and break up long periods of sitting.

Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you do no physical activity right now, start by doing some activities that you enjoy in small amounts, and then slowly build up to the recommended amount.

Checking Blood Glucose levels during exercise

Tips for exercising with diabetes:

Exercising with diabetes can feel scary, especially if you have recently been diagnosed. It’s important to listen to your body to make sure that you get the most out of your exercise. Here are a few key tips to exercising with diabetes:

  • Do not exercise if you are feeling unwell
  • Ensure you are well hydrated
  • Have a carbohydrate snack on hand when you are exercising in case you need it
  • Check your Blood Glucose Levels before, during and after exercise to avoid hypoglycemia

How can an Accredited Exercise Physiologist help manage diabetes?

Seeking advice from an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) is recommended for the management of diabetes. AEPs are university qualified allied health practitioners that have specialised knowledge on exercise for chronic health conditions. They can work with you to develop an individualised, condition-specific exercise program tailored to your needs. An AEP is trained to recognise the signs of a hypoglycaemic episode, and can track Blood Glucose Levels during your exercise program. While you are finding out what your exercise tolerance is, it can be especially useful to work with an AEP to help you meet your guidelines and ensure you can exercise safely.

SportsPlus offers Exercise Physiology services. If you are interested in better managing your diabetes, or reducing your risk of developing diabetes, get in touch!


1 Diabetes Australia. (2021). Type 2 diabetes remission.

2 Exercise and Sports Science Australia. (2019). Exercise Right for type 2 diabetes – Movement is medicine!

Diabetes Australia. (n.d.). Exercise & diabetes.

3 Hordern, M.D. Dunstan, D.W., Prins, J.B., Baker, M.K., Singh, M.A.F, & Coombes, J.S. (2012). Exercise prescription for patients with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes: A position statement from Exercise and Sport Science Australia. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 15, 25–31.

4 Australian Government Department for Health and Aged Care. (2021). Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians – For adults (18 to 64 years).

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