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Type II Diabetes and Exercise

In this Vision Personal Training article, we discuss the relationship between type two diabetes and the role exercise can play in management.
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By Holly Campbell at Baulkham Hills

Type II diabetes is a progressive condition when the insulin producing cells in your body are unable to produce enough insulin, or when the insulin that your body is producing does not work properly. This can lead to a build up of glucose, when the body become too damaged from this build up it can cause life threatening complications such as: heart attacks, strokes and may lead to amputations.

Diabetes does run in the family. If you have a family member with diabetes, you have a genetic disposition to the condition. While genetics already put people at risk of diabetes, it is greatly increased if those family members display several modifiable lifestyle factors including high blood pressure, overweight or obesity, insufficient physical activity, poor diet and carrying extra weight around the waist.

Unfortunately, there is no current cure for type II diabetes but, you can manage the condition through lifestyle changes and medication. Introducing positive lifestyle changes will not only help you manage the condition but it will also lower the risk of the life threatening complications that may occur for those who have type II diabetes. 

The two major ways to help manage type II diabetes are to change your eating habits and to partake in regular physical activity. Healthy eating and regular physical activity are important for everyone, including the people with diabetes. These two factors can make significant changes in managing this condition such as, maintaining a healthy weight, lowering your blood pressure, managing your blood glucose levels and help your insulin to work better. That's to name a few benefits.


Some ways to introduce healthy food habits into your lifestyle is to:

  • Consume small quantities of carbs in each meal
  • You should consume MINIMUM of three meals a day with snacks in between each meal, these meals should be small and spread evenly throughout your day
  • Ideally, include low glycaemic index food in each meal e.g. rolled oats, sweet potato, fruit and lentils
  • Decrease sugar intake
  • Limit saturated fat by choosing reduced or low fat dairy products, choosing lean meats, limit packaged meals/snacks and limit pastries, cakes and chocolate to special occasions.
  • Eat small amounts of polyunsaturated (e.g. sunflower oil and salmon) and monounsaturated (e.g. avocado and olive oil) fats
  • Consume plenty of water daily and limit your intake with juices, soft drink and cordials

Changing your eating behaviours can be extremely difficult for some. It is important that you surround yourself with a positive circle of influence. Make sure you educate yourself and the ones who are around you regularly on your condition and how changing your eating habits can help you manage your condition.


It's no lie that not everyone likes physical activity, at all. It is important that you choose something that you do enjoy doing, that way it is likely that you are going to stick with it. For those who have Type II diabetes, it is important that you exercise routines includes the following:

  • Using large muscle groups when completing a weights program e.g. squats
  • Aerobic activities that gets large muscles moving e.g. walking, swimming, running
  • Complete two resistance/strength training program per week
  • Complete 30 minutes of moderate cardio daily (60 - 90 minutes if you are trying to lose weight)
  • Complete 60 minutes of vigorous cardio per week, this can be broken up into 3 x 20 minute blocks or 6 x 10 minute blocks 

Physical activity provides multiple benefits to those who exercise regularly but for people with diabetes, being regularly physically active has even greater benefits. These benefits include:

  • Improve the body's response to insulin which can lead to lowering blood glucose levels
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease e.g. heart attack
  • Decrease in body weight/maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reduces the risk of developing complications with diabetes

When starting exercise for those who have type II diabetes, it is best to start off slowly. You don't want to rush into anything especially if you haven't partaken in regular physical activity before. Ensure you stay well hydrated as you'll need more water than usual when exercising. If you are new to exercise it can be a great idea to exercise with a family member or friend who is going to keep you accountable. Set a goal and a specific time and day you are going to exercise to keep it regular.

If you are someone who lives with type II diabetes, it is extremely important that you see you Doctor first to receive their approval. There are a few symptoms that you need to look out for when exercising and it is best that you get as much information from your doctor as possible.

If you experience any of the following when exercising, stop and rest as these symptoms could mean heart trouble that requires urgent treatment:

  • Chest Pain/Tightness
  • Abdominal Pain/Tightness
  • Neck Pain/Tightness
  • Arm Pain/Tightness
  • Breathless
  • Faint or Lightheaded
  • Have any other unusual symptoms

If the above symptoms do not settle within 10 minutes, you or someone with you must call an ambulance. If the above symptoms settle in less than 10 minutes, you should go to your doctor urgently for a check up and clearance must be given before you exercise again.

For the first few sessions, it is a good idea to test your blood glucose level before, during and after exercise. Certain insulin and diabetes tablets can lower your blood glucose levels, so you need to ensure you understand your prescribed medication. Always carry jellybeans or glucose tablets in case your blood glucose level drops too low and you need a hit of glucose absorbed quickly.

Make sure you set a goal that is going to motivate you to keep going and create a mindset to allow physical activity to be a forever thing. Don't forget to consult your doctor before exercising and stay cautious of the list of symptoms above.

*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.

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