14 – 20 June 2021 is Diabetes Week. With the number of people living with diabetes on the rise (someone is diagnosed every two minutes in the UK) it’s important to raise awareness of this condition.

What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

  • Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas can’t produce insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes is when the insulin that the pancreas produces can’t work properly, or the pancreas can’t produce enough of it. Both types result in blood glucose (sugar) levels rising.

While type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented, type 2 diabetes is mainly a result of lifestyle choices. You can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by doing regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a balanced diet.

Type 2 diabetes is more common in those who are overweight or obese and whose body fat is distributed centrally i.e. around the waistline.

A BMI over 25 is classified overweight, a BMI over 30 is classified as obese. Being overweight or obese can put your body at risk of lots of serious health issues over and above diabetes such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, joint problems, mental health problems, and some forms of cancer.

You can find out your risk of type 2 diabetes using Diabetes UK’s online tool here.

Exercising when you have diabetes, what’s the benefit?

Physical activity can help reverse type 2 diabetes and greatly reduce the associated health risks, including heart disease, kidney disease, circulation problems, damage to eyes (that can lead to blindness), and nerve damage (that can lead to a loss of sensation and weakness).

The main benefits of exercising when you have diabetes include:

  • Improves your body’s ability to use insulin
  • Reduces blood pressure (high blood pressure puts you at greater risk of diabetes complications)
  • Can improve HDL (good) cholesterol and lipid profile
  • Benefits the heart and blood circulation
  • Improves stamina
  • Contributes to weight loss
  • Can help general health and wellbeing – both physical and mental.

Exercising when you have diabetes, what should you know?

  • Consider checking your blood glucose levels before you plan to start exercise.
  • If you are new to exercise or increasing the intensity or duration of your regular exercise session, check your levels throughout.
  • Due to the increased risk of nerve damage, good foot care is crucial. Check your feet before and after exercise as you could be unaware of blisters.
  • Take care if/when holding/using any equipment as your grip can be impacted.
  • You can still exercise if you have diabetes complications, there is more information available here.
  • People on insulin medication can experience ‘exercise induced hyperglycaemia’ (high glucose levels) when exercising, there is more information about this here.
  • After exercise, check your blood glucose levels.
  • It is advisable to inject insulin into the abdominal area rather than the thigh post exercise.

Exercising when you have diabetes, what should you do and how much?

In reality, every little helps. The key is finding something that fits in with your lifestyle and that you enjoy, whether that’s swimming, walking, cycling, gardening, classes etc.

Cardiovascular exercise increases fitness levels and decreases risk of cardiovascular disease, but adding resistance training is advised as it preserves muscle mass – which slows the decline of insulin resistance.

Exercise should be continued as the benefits on insulin sensitivity declines with time.

It is important to continue to take every opportunity to burn more calories and increase your activity levels. This will help reverse type 2 diabetes, decrease body fat, increase muscle mass, improve mood, build confidence and body image as well as improve your general health and wellbeing.