Don’t Sugar Coat Diabetes – How Exercise Can Help

Whilst we know that exercise is beneficial, you may not have heard the term ‘exercise is medicine’ – something that rings quite true when you consider the effects of exercise on your health. So how does this “medicine” help and what dose do you need to improve your diabetes? First, let’s talk about diabetes…

What is diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disease which occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin, or when the body is unable to use the insulin produced.

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, and acts like a key to allow glucose (sugar) from food eaten to pass through the blood stream and into the body’s cells to produce energy. The inability to produce insulin or effectively use it results in elevated blood glucose levels (also known as hyperglycaemia). If poorly controlled, diabetes can lead to other chronic complications, including damage to various organs and tissues.

There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes (T1DM)

In T1DM, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the body’s immune system. Without insulin, cells are unable to take up glucose and turn it into energy. This leads to a build up of glucose in the blood stream.

Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM)

T2DM is more common and affects 85-90% of all people with diabetes. In T2DM, the pancreas produces insulin but the build-up of glucose in cells in the body do not respond effectively to the insulin and therefore it is not taken up and turned into energy.

Management of T2DM more commonly involves changes to nutrition and physical activity levels, although some people may also require medication and/or insulin injections.

Gestational Diabetes (GDM)

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, when the placenta produces hormones during pregnancy which help the baby grow and develop. These same hormones also block the action of insulin and cause the expectant mother to be insulin-resistant. As a result, the need for insulin during pregnancy is 2-3 times higher than usual and your body may be unable to cope with this increased demand for insulin production, resulting in elevated blood glucose levels.

There are also associated risk factors for developing GDM, including (but not limited to) age, family history, history of elevated blood glucose levels, background.

Most women will no longer have diabetes once the baby is born – however some women will still continue to have high blood glucose levels after delivery, and the insulin resistance increases the risk of developing T2DM later in life.

Benefits of Exercise


Management of diabetes can involve insulin injections and other medications; however, exercise has been proven to be just as effective and has benefits which can put you on the path to long-term good health. Some of these include:


  • Improves insulin sensitivity (meaning it works better)
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves mood
  • Improves sleep
  • Helps to reduce and maintain a healthy weight
  • Guards against some complications of diabetes such as heart disease

What type of exercise should I do?

Your exercise plan should include a combination of moderate-intensity aerobic as well as resistance (weights training) exercises. Moderate-intensity means you should still be able to talk while exercising without becoming breathless. In particular, resistance training results in:

  • Increased lean muscle mass which improves your metabolic rate (meaning you burn calories at a faster rate)
  • Better regulation of blood sugar, as your muscles develop a greater ability to store glucose
  • Decreased body fat/muscle ratio which reduces the amount of insulin you need in your body to help store energy in fat cells

Tips for Exercise

  • Aim to complete 30 minutes of exercise daily, however if you are just starting to exercise or struggle to set aside 30 minutes, it can be broken up into multiple smaller bouts throughout the day to accumulate 30 minutes
  • Give yourself a day off between resistance training sessions to let your body rest and recover
  • Include 8-10 exercises per session to work all the major muscles of the upper and lower body, and complete for 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions
  • Remember to drink plenty of water before and after exercise to avoid dehydration
  • Monitor blood glucose levels before and after exercise
  • Always consult with your doctor or another qualified Health Professional before commencing exercise


If you suffer from Diabetes and are looking for help around building a plan to combat it, possibly using exercise as one of the tools, please reach out to Precision Physio and our Exercise Physiologists will be only too happy to help! You can call us on: 02 8607 4000 or request a call on by using the link:

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