The benefits of exercise in the management of diabetes

Published Feb 17, 2024 • Updated Feb 18, 2024 • By Claudia Lima

Diabetes, a chronic disease affecting millions of people worldwide, requires constant management to prevent long-term complications. In addition to drug treatment and dietary measures, physical activity plays an essential role in the management of diabetes.

How is diabetes treated? What are the benefits of exercise in managing diabetes? What kind of exercise should you do? Are there any precautions you should take?

Find all the answers in our article!

The benefits of exercise in the management of diabetes

How is diabetes managed? 

Diabetes is characterized by an excess of sugar in the blood, known as hyperglycemia. There are 2 main types of diabetes, caused by different malfunctions: type 1 diabetes is linked to a lack of insulin secretion by the pancreas, and type 2 diabetes is caused by a misuse of insulin by the body's cells.

If treated well and early, diabetes can be managed successfully. Management of this chronic disease is based on a comprehensive approach aimed at controlling blood sugar levels, preventing complications and improving the patients' quality of life.

Anti-diabetic treatment
includes medication, therapeutic education, a well-balanced diet and regular physical activity.

plays an essential role in the treatment of diabetes. It has many benefits in terms of managing the disease and controlling blood sugar levels. 

However, you should be careful when choosing the right type of physical activity, and always ask for medical advice. It is important to know that the impact of physical activity differs according to the type of diabetes.

How does exercising affect diabetes? 

The type of exercise must be adapted to each patient. One thing to remember is that you need to take certain precautions in order to avoid the risks of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia.

Physical activity is beneficial in the management of diabetes, as it helps lower blood sugar levels and thus control them better. This is because exercise causes the muscles to burn the glucose, and since this requires energy, the cells make greater use of the sugar circulating in the blood. All exercise therefore has a positive effect on glycated hemoglobin levels.

Exercise is also the only non-drug way of reducing muscle resistance to insulin.

The benefits of exercise in the treatment of diabetes are:

Controlling your blood sugar 

When you exercise regularly, your muscle cells are more efficient at using glucose, helping lower your blood sugar levels. This increased sensitivity to insulin results in better management of type 2 diabetes. For people with type 1 diabetes, exercise can help stabilize glucose levels and reduce insulin dependence.

Controlling your weight 

Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight by burning calories and stimulating the metabolism. By controlling your weight, you can prevent diabetes or improve its management, thereby reducing the associated complications.

Better heart health 

Diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Exercise, on the other hand, strengthens the heart, improves blood circulation and lowers blood pressure, helping reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications in people with diabetes.

Exercise also reduces blood triglyceride levels and increases levels of HDL-cholesterol (the good cholesterol).

Better mental health 

Exercise also has psychological benefits. Being physically active increases the release of hormones such as endorphins, which brings a feeling of well-being and helps reduce stress and anxiety, frequently associated with diabetes.

How can you include exercise in the management of your diabetes? What type of exercise should you opt for? 

The choice of physical activity should fit in with your lifestyle. Simple exercises such as walking, using the stairs instead of the lift, or even home training sessions can make a big difference. Exercise is not limited to sport.

It is better to start with short duration or low intensity exercise, before gradually increasing the duration and intensity to achieve better results. Remember to keep well hydrated during physical effort.

Patients with well-managed diabetes can, in principle, do any type of sport. However, certain types of sport are better suited for diabetics than others: for example, solitary sports (windsurfing) and martial arts are not recommended for people with diabetes.

Some sports are particularly recommended for diabetes patients, such as endurance sports (swimming, cycling, running, water aerobics, dance, yoga), as the intensity and duration of the effort can be easily adapted.

The insulin pump is compatible with most types of exercise. The only thing to bear in mind is whether or not you can wear the pump during exercise.

What should you be aware of when exercising? 

There is a risk of blood sugar levels becoming unbalanced during physical effort. It is recommended that you check your blood sugar levels before and after exercise, so that you can adjust your treatment quickly and eat a snack if necessary. You should also be alert to certain symptoms, such as excessive sweating or dizziness.

If the risk of hypoglycemia is high, you should be accompanied by a professional or a caregiver while doing your physical activity. Moreover, exercising after a long period of fasting can lead to hypoglycemia or even diabetic coma.

Exercise-induced hypoglycemia 

Exercising often causes your blood sugar levels to fall, especially in the hours after your exercise. You therefore need to reduce insulin doses, adjust your diet and check blood sugar levels before exercise.

Exercise-induced hyperglycemia 

In some cases, physical effort can raise blood sugar levels. Stress (excitement, concentration) generated by certain sports causes a surge of adrenaline that raises blood sugar levels. If blood sugar levels are not high before exercise, hyperglycemia will be temporary, although the levels may fall in the hours that follow, so they need to be closely monitored.


Exercise as part of diabetes treatment is contraindicated in the event of nerve damage to the legs or feet (diabetic neuropathy). In the event of injury, you should suspend physical activity and see your doctor or a podiatrist. There are also situations in which high-intensity exercise is contraindicated: poorly managed diabetes, severe retinopathy, kidney damage, etc. In these cases, it is recommended to opt for light- or moderate- intensity exercise, and to keep being physically active in your daily life.


Incorporating exercise into the daily lives of people with diabetes offers many benefits. From managing blood sugar levels to ensuring optimum cardiovascular health, exercise plays an essential role in the overall management of this chronic disease. Regular physical activity can reduce the need for oral antidiabetic drugs and insulin, or lower their doses.

Before starting or resuming any type of exercise, it is necessary to speak to your doctor, who will make sure that there are no contraindications in your particular case. If necessary, they will suggest a check-up and a cardiovascular risk assessment and look for any other risk factors or complications.

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