How do diet and exercise help control type 2 diabetes?

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Exercise helps control type 2 diabetes by:
  • improving the body’s use of insulin
  • controlling weight (decreased body fat improves insulin response)
  • increasing muscle strength
  • increasing bone density and strength
  • lowering blood pressure
  • improving blood cholesterol levels -- improving circulation
  • increasing energy levels
  • reducing stress and anxiety
  • lowering risks for other health problems, including heart attack, stroke, and some cancers
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Regular physical activity -- at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week -- can help prevent or control type 2 diabetes and delay its complications. How? Research shows that both aerobic exercise (activities that increase your heart rate and breathing) and resistance exercise (training that builds strength and balance) help your body decrease insulin resistance and burn extra glucose, which helps lower blood sugar levels.

Leading a sedentary lifestyle is one of the major risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, and the high incidence of obesity and overweight among people with type 2 is also highly correlated with inactivity. Starting a workout program can lower body mass and consequently decrease the insulin resistance of type 2 diabetes; studies have shown that people with type 2 diabetes who exercise regularly have better A1c profiles than those who don’t. Along with medical nutrition therapy, exercise is one of the first lines of defense in type 2 diabetes control.

In addition, exercise is a key tool in preventing one of the leading complications of type 2 diabetes—cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that regular activity lowers triglyceride levels and blood pressure.1

1 American Diabetes Association. “Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: Clinical Practice Guidelines.” Diabetes Care. 27: 58S-62S.

The accepted, tried-and-true treatment for type 2 diabetes is a balance of diet and exercise. Even if you need medications, healthy eating and exercise habits continue to be key in caring for your type 2 diabetes. Most people with type 2 diabetes are advised to lose weight and improve their physical fitness. This can help to lower the body’s resistance to insulin. The severity of type 2 diabetes can be greatly reduced by maintaining a healthy body weight. Even a modest weight loss—10 pounds—can have benefits. By building a healthy lifestyle around a low-fat, well-rounded diet and regular exercise, it is possible to decrease body weight and insulin resistance. Exercise helps by taking some glucose from the blood and using it for energy during a workout, an effect that lasts even beyond the workout. Healthy eating, especially watching the amount of food eaten, helps glucose levels stay lower. As your level of physical fitness improves with regular exercise, so does your body’s sensitivity to insulin.

Continue Learning about Type 2 Diabetes Treatment

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.