Jan 15, 2024

Research Spotlight: What are the Physical Activity and Exercise Recommendations for People with Diabetes?

Living with diabetes comes with its challenges, and one crucial aspect is incorporating physical activity into daily life. But how does exercise really impact blood glucose management and overall health for those with diabetes?

Let's delve into the science-backed recommendations and benefits outlined in the most recent ADA position statement.

First, a bit of background info about diabetes and exercise

Firstly, it’s important to understand that there are different types of diabetes — type 1, type 2, gestational diabetes, and pre-diabetes — each demanding tailored approaches to physical activity.

For instance, type 1 diabetes results from an autoimmune response that destroys insulin-producing cells, while type 2 diabetes usually involves reduced insulin production and insulin resistance. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, and pre-diabetes indicates a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Physical activity is varied too. It's about incorporating movement into your life. There are various forms: aerobic exercise, resistance training, flexibility exercises, and balance activities. Each has its unique benefits for managing diabetes and overall well-being.

Aerobic exercises like walking, cycling, or swimming help improve cardiovascular fitness, insulin sensitivity, and overall health. Resistance training, involving weights or bodyweight exercises, enhances muscle strength and improves insulin sensitivity. Flexibility exercises like stretching are crucial for joint mobility, especially for older adults dealing with joint issues. Balance exercises like tai chi not only improve balance but also benefit gait and reduce the risk of falls.

Check here our more in-depth guide about what to look out when exercising for people living with diabetes.

Physical Activity and Type 1 Diabetes

Exercise is an important component of living a healthy life and for managing diabetes. Aerobic exercise, for instance, increases insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular health, and immune function, and also may contribute to better blood glucose management. Resistance training, is also highly beneficial as it boosts muscle strength, improves insulin sensitivity and can help to reduce fat mass.

Breaking up prolonged periods of sitting is crucial, particularly for individuals with type 2 diabetes. Studies show that interrupting sitting with light activities every 30 minutes can significantly improve blood glucose levels and overall health, complementing structured exercise routines.

For those with type 2 diabetes, a blend of aerobic and resistance exercises works wonders. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity weekly, coupled with strength-building exercises. These activities improve insulin action, lower A1C levels, and contribute to better overall health outcomes.

Physical Activity and Type 1 Diabetes

Managing physical activity with type 1 diabetes requires careful planning. Blood glucose responses can vary significantly based on the type, timing, and intensity of the activity. For instance, aerobic exercise can lead to decreased blood glucose levels, while intense activities might stabilize or elevate them. These are just general guidelines however, so be aware of how your glucose responds and be aware of factors such as when you last administered insulin or whether you have recently eaten.

Blood glucose management during exercise in type 1 diabetes demands additional attention. Regular blood glucose checks, adjusting insulin doses, and ensuring adequate carbohydrate intake are vital to maintain balance during and after physical activity.

In essence, incorporating physical activity into your routine, is a powerful tool to help managing blood glucose levels and overall well-being. From structured workouts to breaking up prolonged sitting, every movement counts.

For individuals with diabetes, understanding how different forms of exercise impact their health is empowering. It's not just about staying active; it's about making informed choices to lead a healthier life.

Let's now break down some recommendations for incorporating exercise into your routine.

For Most Adults:

  • Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity weekly, spread across at least 3 days, with no more than 2 consecutive days without activity.

  • Don't overlook resistance exercise! Engaging in resistance training sessions 2-3 times per week on nonconsecutive days can significantly improve strength, balance, and daily functioning.

  • Flexibility and balance exercises 2-3 times weekly, particularly beneficial for older adults.

  • Regular aerobic exercise, spanning at least 10 minutes per session, is essential. The goal is roughly 30 minutes per day, most days of the week. The intensity should feel 'moderate' to 'very hard'. For some, shorter bursts of more intense activities, like running, might suffice.

  • Maintaining joint mobility and balance is crucial. Flexibility exercises, contribute to overall health. Activities like yoga and tai chi, focusing on strength and balance, can be great additions.

  • Every movement counts! Increasing non-exercise activity—such as household chores, gardening, or running errands plays a vital role in overall energy expenditure and weight management. Even short bursts of unstructured activity can help manage blood glucose levels, especially after meals.

Children and Adolescents:

  • Engage in 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity daily, along with muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening exercises at least 3 days per week.


Pregnancy and diabetes pose unique challenges, but incorporating physical activity can significantly benefit both mother and baby. Let's break down the recommendations and strategies for safely engaging in exercise during pregnancy while managing diabetes.

  • Women with pre-existing diabetes should embrace regular physical activity before and during pregnancy.

  • For those with or at risk of gestational diabetes, aim for 20-30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. Starting physical activity before pregnancy reduces the risk of gestational diabetes mellitus.

  • Physical activity during pregnancy boasts numerous benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, reduced risks of complications like preeclampsia, cesarean delivery, and even lowering the risk of developing gestational diabetes mellitus.

  • Programs involving moderate-intensity exercise for most days of the week are encouraged.

  • Aerobic or resistance training can aid in improving insulin action and glycemic management once gestational diabetes mellitus is diagnosed.

  • Initiating exercise during pregnancy, with few contraindications, is generally safe. If unsure, check with your doctor.

  • For those using insulin, awareness of its sensitising effects during exercise, especially in the first trimester, is crucial.

  • Adjustments in insulin regimen and carbohydrate intake are recommended to prevent exercise-related hypoglycaemia.

Safe Beginnings: Pre-Exercise Health Screening

Pre-exercise medical clearance is typically unnecessary for asymptomatic individuals planning low or moderate-intensity activities like brisk walking or everyday living. However, individuals aiming for higher intensity exercises or with certain risk factors may benefit from consulting a healthcare provider before starting a new routine.

Exercise is a powerful tool in diabetes management, but safety is key. Understanding your body, consulting a healthcare professional before initiating new routines, and gradual progression based on individual abilities are essential.

By integrating tailored exercises into your routine, you're not just managing diabetes—you're taking proactive steps toward a healthier, more balanced life.

Remember, it's not about perfection—it's about progress. So, lace up those shoes, stretch those muscles, and embrace the transformative power of movement.

Concluding Recommendations

Physical activity and exercise should be integral parts of diabetes management for all individuals, considering variations in diabetes type, age, existing complications, and the nature of physical activities undertaken.

The American Diabetes Association encourages reducing sedentary time and breaking prolonged sitting with frequent bouts of activity for all adults, beyond just engaging in regular physical activity.

By embracing these strategies—tailored interventions, step-counter usage, and technology-based approaches—individuals with diabetes can effectively integrate physical activity into their daily lives, fostering better glycemic management and overall health.

💡 Wearable devices like fitness trackers or smartwatches allow real-time monitoring of various health metrics, including heart rate, activity levels, and sometimes even blood glucose levels. These devices help individuals track their exercise intensity and duration, providing insights into their physical activity's impact on their health.

Check out the Enhance-d platform and how the integration of wearable devices, apps, and virtual platforms creates a supportive ecosystem that empowers individuals to manage their diabetes effectively through physical activity while keeping their well-being a top priority.

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©2024 by Sestante Analytics AG

Sign up now and get FREE access

Our online dashboard is free to use, as you’re helping us build the best platform for diabetes and weight management!

Get Started ->

Stay up to date

Sign up for our newsletter and get updates, resources, offers and special early access to everything Enhance-d related!


©2024 by Sestante Analytics AG