OPINION PIECE: Dr  Gerrit Jan Breukelman  – Human Movement Science

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OPINION PIECE: Dr  Gerrit Jan Breukelman  – Human Movement Science

OPINION PIECE: Dr  Gerrit Jan Breukelman  – Human Movement Science

The Beneficial Impact of Exercise on Diabetes Management

Exercise is a powerful tool in the management of diabetes, a chronic condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar levels due to either insufficient insulin production (Type 1 diabetes) or the body’s inability to use insulin effectively (Type 2 diabetes). While medication, diet, and monitoring play critical roles in diabetes management, exercise is increasingly recognized as a key component for improving glucose control, enhancing insulin sensitivity, and reducing the risk of complications. The following section will explore the numerous benefits of exercise on diabetes and its role in fostering a healthier and more active lifestyle for individuals with this condition.

  1. Improved Blood Glucose Control

One of the most notable benefits of exercise for individuals with diabetes is improved blood glucose control. Regular physical activity can help lower blood sugar levels by several mechanisms:

  1. Enhanced Insulin Sensitivity: Exercise increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, allowing cells to take up and utilize glucose more effectively. This means that even if there is insufficient insulin (as in Type 1 diabetes) or insulin resistance (as in Type 2 diabetes), exercise can help manage blood sugar levels more efficiently.
  1. Glucose Uptake: During exercise, muscles require more energy, leading to an increased uptake of glucose from the bloodstream. This helps lower blood sugar levels and reduce the need for medications in some cases.
  1. Post-Exercise Effect: The benefits of exercise on blood sugar control can extend beyond the workout itself. After a bout of exercise, the body can continue to utilize glucose effectively for hours, providing a sustained reduction in blood sugar levels.
  1. A1C Reduction: Regular exercise has been shown to lower haemoglobin A1C levels, a long-term measure of blood sugar control (average over three months). By doing so, it helps reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, and vision problems.
  •  Weight Management

Weight management is a crucial aspect of diabetes management, particularly for individuals with Type 2 diabetes. Exercise plays a pivotal role in this regard:

  • Weight Loss: Exercise helps individuals burn calories, which can lead to weight loss when combined with a balanced diet. Weight loss is especially beneficial for individuals with Type 2 diabetes as it often improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar levels.
  • Weight Maintenance: Even if weight loss is not the primary goal, exercise helps maintain a healthy weight. This is essential for preventing excessive weight gain, which can exacerbate diabetes symptoms and complications.
  • Muscle Mass Maintenance: Resistance training and strength exercises are key components of diabetes management. They help maintain and build muscle mass, which is metabolically active and can contribute to better blood sugar control.
  • Cardiovascular Health

Diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke. Exercise plays a pivotal role in improving cardiovascular health in individuals with diabetes:

  • Lowering Blood Pressure: Regular physical activity helps reduce blood pressure, a common issue for people with diabetes. This, in turn, reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Improved Lipid Profile: Exercise can increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels and lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, leading to better lipid profiles, which are essential for cardiovascular health.
  • Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Events: Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes in individuals with diabetes. It improves the overall health of the cardiovascular system, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and blood clot formation.
  • Stress Reduction

Stress can have a significant impact on blood sugar levels, as it triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which can lead to elevated blood sugar. Exercise is an excellent stress-reduction tool:

  • Hormone Regulation: Exercise helps regulate stress hormones and promotes the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. This can help individuals with diabetes better manage the emotional and psychological aspects of their condition.
  • Improved Sleep: Regular exercise can lead to improved sleep patterns, reducing stress and enhancing overall well-being. Quality sleep is essential for blood sugar control and overall health.
  • Enhanced Coping Skills: Engaging in regular physical activity can help individuals develop healthy coping strategies for managing the stress associated with diabetes, leading to better overall management of the condition.
  • Enhanced Quality of Life

Exercise not only has physiological benefits but also enhances the quality of life for individuals with diabetes:

  • Increased Energy Levels: Regular physical activity can boost energy levels, combat fatigue, and improve daily functioning, making it easier to manage the demands of diabetes self-care.
  • Greater Mobility and Independence: Improved fitness and muscle strength from exercise can enhance mobility and reduce the risk of mobility-related complications in diabetes, such as diabetic neuropathy.
  • Better Mental Health: Exercise is associated with better mental health and well-being. It can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety that are often comorbid with diabetes.
  • Social Engagement: Participating in group exercise classes or sports can provide a sense of community and social support, reducing feelings of isolation that can sometimes accompany diabetes.
  • Long-Term Complication Prevention

Exercise can play a vital role in preventing or delaying the onset of diabetes-related complications. These complications can affect various organs and systems in the body:

  • Nerve Health: Exercise can help maintain nerve function and prevent diabetic neuropathy, which can lead to pain and loss of sensation in the extremities.
  • Kidney Health: Regular exercise can help maintain kidney function and reduce the risk of diabetic nephropathy, a condition that can lead to kidney failure.
  • Eye Health: Exercise can improve blood flow to the eyes and reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy, which can cause vision problems and blindness.
  • Foot Health: Exercise, especially when it includes balance and coordination training, can help prevent foot ulcers and infections in individuals with diabetes.
  • Personalized Approach

It is essential to emphasize that exercise recommendations for individuals with diabetes should be tailored to their individual needs, taking into account factors such as age, fitness level, type of diabetes, and any existing complications. Consulting with a healthcare provider or a certified diabetes educator can help create a personalized exercise plan that optimally addresses these unique considerations.


In conclusion, exercise is a powerful and versatile tool for managing diabetes. Its positive impact on blood glucose control, weight management, cardiovascular health, stress reduction, and overall quality of life is well-established. Exercise can also contribute to the prevention of diabetes-related complications, leading to better long-term health outcomes.

For individuals with diabetes, incorporating regular physical activity into their daily routine is not only beneficial but also empowering. It allows them to take an active role in managing their condition, reducing the need for medication, and improving their overall well-being. While exercise is not a replacement for other essential components of diabetes management, such as medication and a balanced diet, it is a critical part of the equation. Therefore, it is crucial for healthcare providers, individuals with diabetes, and their support systems to recognize and promote the benefits of exercise in diabetes management, ultimately improving the lives of those affected by this condition.