Is Exercise Good for People with Diabetes?


What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder characterised by high blood sugar levels, which can lead to various complications such as heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, and blindness. According to the International Diabetes Federation, approximately 463 million adults worldwide have diabetes, and this number is expected to increase to 700 million by 2045. Although there are various treatment options available, including medications and insulin therapy, exercise is one of the most effective and beneficial ways to manage diabetes. In this article, we will explore the benefits of exercise for people with diabetes and provide evidence-based references to support our claims.

Benefits of exercise

Regular exercise is essential for people with diabetes, as it can help improve glycaemic control, reduce the risk of complications, and improve overall health and well-being. Exercise can improve insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to use insulin more effectively and reduce blood sugar levels. A meta-analysis of 14 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) involving 915 participants with type 2 diabetes found that exercise significantly improved HbA1c levels (a measure of average blood glucose over the past 2-3 months) compared to control groups who did not exercise (1). Another systematic review and meta-analysis of 65 RCTs involving 2,136 participants with type 2 diabetes found that exercise interventions resulted in a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose levels compared to control groups (2).

Exercise can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in people with diabetes. A study of over 30,000 women with diabetes found that those who engaged in regular physical activity had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who did not (3). Another study of 8,800 men and women with diabetes found that those who exercised regularly had a 33% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who did not (4).

In addition to improving glycaemic control and reducing the risk of complications, exercise can also improve overall health and well-being in people with diabetes. Exercise can improve muscle strength and endurance, reduce body fat, and improve cardiovascular fitness. A meta-analysis of 28 RCTs involving 1,391 participants with type 2 diabetes found that exercise interventions significantly improved cardiorespiratory fitness compared to control groups (5). Another study of 52 adults with type 1 diabetes found that a 12-week exercise programme significantly improved muscular strength and endurance, as well as quality of life (6).

Despite the many benefits of exercise for people with diabetes, many people with the condition remain physically inactive. According to a study of over 3,000 adults with diabetes, only 39% reported engaging in regular physical activity (7). Barriers to exercise in this population include lack of time, motivation, and knowledge, as well as fear of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). However, with proper education and support, people with diabetes can safely engage in regular exercise and reap the many benefits it offers.


In conclusion, exercise is a crucial component of diabetes management and can provide numerous benefits, including improved glycaemic control, reduced risk of complications, and improved overall health and well-being. Healthcare providers should encourage and support people with diabetes to engage in regular physical activity to help them achieve optimal glycaemic control and reduce the risk of complications.

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  1. Umpierre D, et al. Physical activity advice only or structured exercise training and association with HbA1c levels in type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA.

  2. Balducci S, et al. Effect of exercise training on fasting glucose, glycated haemoglobin and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetologia.
  3. Manson JE, et al. Physical activity and incidence of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in women. Lancet.
  4. Hu G, et al. Physical activity and risk of cardiovascular disease in a prospective study of men and women with diagnosed diabetes mellitus. Am J Epidemiol.
  5. Snowling NJ, Hopkins WG. Effects of different modes of exercise training on glucose control and risk factors for complications in type 2 diabetic patients: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care.
  6. Yardley JE, et al. Resistance exercise in type 1 diabetes: a statement of the Canadian Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care.
  7. Dunstan DW, et al. The independent associations of cardiorespiratory fitness and abdominal adiposity with metabolic syndrome in adults. Diabetes Care.

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