Diabetes and exercise - Exercise Right Week

Reading Time   

Diabetes and exercise
Exercise plays an important role in the management of several chronic diseases including diabetes, cancers, and osteoporosis. As Exercise Physiologists we have post graduate qualifications and use exercise as medicine to manage a range of chronic conditions to improve an individual’s quality of life.  

Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia. There are 3 types of diabetes with this article focusing on Type 2 diabetes, which makes up 85-90% of diabetic cases.

Diabetes impacts our ability to regulate blood sugar levels and results in chronically high blood sugar levels. If untreated this can lead to complications such as

  • Vision loss

  • Heart attacks

  • Amputation

The good news is Type 2 diabetes if largely preventable and managed with lifestyle interventions. Exercise training, whether aerobic, resistance or a combination, facilitates improved glucose regulation. Exercise can assist with blood sugar management, improved metabolic health, reduce weight and the risk of diabetic complications. Exercise causes a lowering effect on our blood sugar levels acutely and over the long term if exercising regularly.

Cardiovascular exercise
The research shows that the most affective type of cardiovascular exercise for diabetes management is moderate to high intensity. However even exercising at lower intensities is beneficial.  Cardiovascular (particularly moderate to high intensity) exercise can reduce your blood sugar levels immediately after exercise into a safe level and this can last up to 96 hours post exercise. This benefit is most effective when you are consistently exercising over the long term.

Cardiovascular training

  • Frequency – 5 days a week

  • Intensity – moderate-high intensity exercise (where possible)

  • Type - walking, cycling, swimming, running, dancing

  • Time – 150 minutes a week (30 mins 5 days a week)

Strength training
More recent research has proven the benefit of strength training for management of diabetes. Strength training has been found to have equal amounts of benefits as cardiovascular training and has been shown to reduce patients 3-month average sugar levels due to increased muscle mass over time. Other significant health benefits include reductions in blood pressure, improved bone mineral density, weight management and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.

Strength training

  • Types – bodyweight exercise (squats, push ups, lunges), thera band exercises, machine based training.

  • 2-3 days a week

  • At least one day of rest in between sessions

Overall a combination of cardiovascular and strength training has the greatest benefits to manage diabetes and sugar levels, along with good nutrition, adequate sleep and hydration.

How to start
If you are an individual with diabetes or any other chronic condition consulting an exercise physiologist is the best way to receive guidance around how to exercise safely. You will receive a full subjective and objective assessment and be prescribed a safe and tailored program to your needs and goals.

Where to find help

  • Consult with your GP

  • Book in to see an Exercise Physiologist at Kieser

This article was sourced and written by Exercise Physiologist, Emily Woolmer from Kieser Brighton


Kirwan, J. P., Sacks, J., & Nieuwoudt, S. (2017). The essential role of exercise in the management of type 2 diabetes. Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine, 84(7 Suppl 1), S15–S21. https://doi.org/10.3949/ccjm.84.s1.03

Australian Government, Department of Health and Aged Care, ‘Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians’ (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2013)