Can exercise help treat diabetes?

In Sugar Nation, author Jeff O'Connell makes an irrefutable case that lifestyle changes are critical in combating a diagnosis of prediabetes or diabetes. While manipulating dietary choices is the logical place to begin in diabetes management, he stresses the importance of exercise as an essential element in combating the disease. "Along with a low-carb eating plan, a gym membership is the most potent antidote to type 2 diabetes," writes O'Connell.

He speaks with experts who identify high-intensity interval exercise (HIIT) as the preferred workout regimen to affect insulin sensitivity. HIIT is a style of training where you "alternate bursts of intense cardio exercise, like sprinting, with a more relaxed pace." While HIIT training demands greater exertion, it's also a workout that can be completed in shorter time than traditional cardio workouts.

James Timmons, PhD, a university researcher who studied HIIT's influence on diabetics, told the writer: "The intense contractions that fatigue muscle really break down carbohydrate stores in muscle as well. The muscles then become much more responsive to insulin as they attempt to replenish these stores." As O'Connell sums up: "[T]he latest studies suggest that the blood sugar benefits of high-intensity training don't just meet those of longer, steady-pace cardio sessions -- they exceed them."

Research has also found that exercise can deliver enormous benefits to diabetics even when sufferers fail to reach their weight-loss goals. "In the Diabetes Prevention Program, those subjects who didn't hit their target weight loss, yet did hit their target for exercise, still had a 44% reduction in diabetes risk relative to a placebo group."

Whatever type of workout program you engage in, do it as regularly as you would take a medication for diabetes. It's that powerful.

Continue Learning about Diabetes


Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.