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How physical activity helps manage type 2 diabetes

By Ryan Byrne, Accredited Exercise Physiologist

Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 85-90% of all people living with diabetes. It usually occurs later in life and is most common in people 45 plus. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body is unable to break down glucose efficiently to use it as energy, so glucose builds up in the blood.1 Over time, high blood glucose levels have a serious impact on health.

The good news is that type 2 diabetes can be prevented, delayed or managed with lifestyle changes, including regular physical activity.

Managing type 2 diabetes with physical activity

Being active plays a key role in reducing blood glucose levels because physical activity enhances the body’s ability to use glucose as fuel. Its effect on lowering blood glucose levels can help to prevent or delay complications associated with diabetes.2

In addition to lowering blood sugar levels, physical activity can also help with weight management, reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and decrease the risk of heart disease. All of these benefits can help people with type 2 diabetes improve their overall health and reduce the risk of complications associated with the condition.2

Exercise recommendations

Type 2 diabetics should avoid exercise and seek advice from their doctor if their blood glucose levels are less than 4mmol/L, or more than 15mmol/L, or if they are feeling unwell.1

Otherwise, if you have type 2 diabetes, you should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week.3 Walking, bike riding, running or swimming are all good activities.

Strength training exercises should also be included at least twice a week.3 If you are restricted by lack of time or the financial costs of attending a gym or exercise class, here are some simple time-efficient strength exercises that can be done at home:

  • Step ups
  • Sit to stand from a chair
  • Wall or bench push ups

Aim to exercise after a meal to avoid sudden spikes in blood glucose and to use blood glucose as energy as opposed to letting it build up in the blood.4

Doing any activity is better than doing none, so if you don’t do any physical activity currently, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount.5 It is important to reduce time spent sitting, and to break up periods of sitting as often as possible.

If you are unsure what strength-based exercises to complete, Get Active Victoria offers a range of strength workouts you can try.

If you are still unsure where to start, contact your local accredited exercise physiologist, GP or physiotherapist for professional guidance about developing a personalised exercise program to manage your type 2 diabetes.


  1. American Diabetes Association. (2019). 9. Pharmacologic Approaches to Glycemic Treatment: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2019. Diabetes Care, 42(Supplement 1), S90-S102.
  2. Boulé, N. G., Haddad, E., Kenny, G. P., Wells, G. A., & Sigal, R. J. (2001). Effects of exercise on glycemic control and body mass in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials. JAMA, 286(10), 1218-1227.
  3. Colberg, S. R., Sigal, R. J., Fernhall, B., Regensteiner, J. G., Blissmer, B. J., Rubin, R. R., … & Braun, B. (2010). Exercise and type 2 diabetes: the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement executive summary. Diabetes Care, 33(12), 2692-2696.
  4. Yardley, J. E., Kenny, G. P., Perkins, B. A., Riddell, M. C., Malcolm, J., & Boulay, P. (2013). Resistance versus aerobic exercise: acute effects on glycemia in type 1 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 36(3), 537-542.
  5. Umpierre, D., Ribeiro, P. A., Kramer, C. K., Leitão, C. B., Zucatti, A. T., Azevedo & Schaan, B. D. (2011). Physical activity advice only or structured exercise training and association with HbA1c levels in type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA, 305(17), 1790-1799.

Last updated: July 9, 2024 at: 11:33 pm

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