Diabetes Type 2 And Physical Activity

What is Diabetes type 2?

Type 2 diabetes is a condition where your blood sugar (glucose) level is too high because cells in your muscle fat and liver do not use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that is produced in your pancreas and is vital for staying alive. It plays an essential role in telling our cells to take glucose from the blood and allow our body to function. This inability to use insulin is referred to as insulin resistance. If our cells do not respond to insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream and when these levels are too high, pressure is put on your blood vessels. This causes damage to the heart, eyes, nerves, and kidneys. 

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination, particularly at night
  • Blurred vision
  • Irritability 
  • Wounds that take a long time to heal
  • Itching in the genital region

Typically, this condition is associated with being overweight, obese or inactive.1 The risk of type 2 diabetes also increases if you're older than 40. Furthermore, people of Asian, African-Caribbean, or of black African origin are at higher risk.2

If you are interested in finding out if you are at risk, here is a link to the NHS risk calculator

Diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is confirmed using blood and urine tests. Glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) levels are worth a mention as they are one of the key indicators used to see if treatments are working.3 After diagnosis, your treatment consists of a lifelong change towards a healthier and more balanced diet, frequent exercise and prescribed medication. However, some people can control their blood sugar levels with just diet and exercise.

General benefits of staying active

Exercise has numerous benefits for your health and can be done, in some form, anywhere, at any time, and doesn't have to cost a penny. 

Studies show that you will benefit the most from exercise if you alternate between moderate cardiovascular workouts and strength training.  Examples of moderate cardiovascular exercise include brisk walking, swimming and cycling. Examples of moderate resistance training include yoga, callisthenics and weight lifting. Stretching should also be done to improve flexibility and mobility. 

Exercise facilitates better brain function and memory, improves sleep quality and reduces the risk of stress, clinical depression and dementia. Exercising also improves bone density, which can reduce your risk of fractures and improve connective tissue strength. By having good mobility, more muscle strength, stronger bones and connective tissue, and better cardiovascular function, get injured. This will also help you to manage your weight, body composition and keep health markers such as blood pressure, lipid profile, blood glucose and A1C levels in healthy ranges. This in turn will help reduce your risk of long-term conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and certain cancers.

Regular exercise lowers risk of developing type 2 diabetes!

Being overweight or obese (having a high body fat percentage and low muscle mass) and physically inactive are major risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, they can be controlled. One of the reasons obesity is linked to diabetes is because people with obesity have more fat in their liver. Exercising can reduce liver fat content and improve the way your liver uses fat. Exercising regularly increases muscle mass, reduces body fat percentage and keeps you at a healthy weight. This allows your body to use blood glucose and respond to insulin in an effective way, keeping the levels of both in healthy ranges, making you unlikely to suffer from diabetes.4

Physical activity is a great aid in living with diabetes type 2

Staying active increases sensitivity to insulin

Exercise directly improves your body's sensitivity to insulin short and long term. In the short term, exercise is responsible for most insulin sensitivity improvements. 5 This is because people experience a reduction in blood glucose immediately and up to 72 hours after. In the long term, even one week of exercise can improve insulin sensitivity throughout your body. Resistance training has been shown to improve insulin action and increase the amount of skeletal muscle and  its responsiveness to insulin.

Exercise helps lower and maintain blood glucose levels

The effect of exercise on blood glucose levels depend on how long you are exercising and how intensely.5 The type of exercise determines what your body will use as fuel. Aerobic exercises are less intense but are generally performed for longer periods, i.e walking. Anaerobic exercises are more intense but are generally performed in shorter periods, i.e weightlifting. 

It is important to understand that blood glucose levels are usually maintained by the liver breaking down stored long chains of glucose (glycogen) and converting other molecules into glucose. However, when you exercise, your muscles contract, causing more glucose to be absorbed into these muscle cells for energy and less to be in the blood. This way of getting glucose from the blood to the cells is not impaired when you have type 2 diabetes.6 Your muscles also experience a rise in the amount of glucose they take up for 24 hours after exercise.

Furthermore, both aerobic and anaerobic exercises increase the abundance of a key receptor that insulin interacts with, allowing more glucose to enter cells even in people with type 2 diabetes.7 If you have type 2, during moderate exercise your liver produces less glucose than your muscles are using, leading to a reduction in blood glucose. Resistance training has also been shown to reduce fasting blood glucose as well as increase muscle mass. This is beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes as this shows your body is becoming more responsive to insulin.8


In conclusion, performing a mix of moderate aerobic and resistance training as part of a regular exercise plan can not only reduce your risk of suffering from type 2 diabetes but also combat its effects. Exercise helps cells uptake blood glucose and improves their responsiveness to insulin. This controls blood glucose levels and increases insulin sensitivity, reducing the likelihood of type 2 diabetes related complications.


  1. Galicia-Garcia U, Benito-Vicente A, Jebari S, Larrea-Sebal A, Siddiqi H, Uribe KB, et al. Pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Aug 30;21(17):E6275. 
  2. Rosella LC, Mustard CA, Stukel TA, Corey P, Hux J, Roos L, et al. The role of ethnicity in predicting diabetes risk at the population level. Ethn Health. 2012;17(4):419–37. 
  3. Pippitt K, Li M, Gurgle HE. Diabetes mellitus: screening and diagnosis. afp [Internet]. 2016 Jan 15 [cited 2022 Oct 12];93(2):103–9. Available from: https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2016/0115/p103.html
  4. Suh SH, Paik IY, Jacobs K. Regulation of blood glucose homeostasis during prolonged exercise. Mol Cells. 2007 Jun 30;23(3):272–9. 
  5. Bajpeyi S, Tanner CJ, Slentz CA, Duscha BD, McCartney JS, Hickner RC, et al. Effect of exercise intensity and volume on persistence of insulin sensitivity during training cessation. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2009 Apr;106(4):1079–85. 
  6. Ploug T, Galbo H, Richter EA. Increased muscle glucose uptake during contractions: no need for insulin. Am J Physiol. 1984 Dec;247(6 Pt 1):E726-731. 
  7. Zierath JR, He L, Gumà A, Odegoard Wahlström E, Klip A, Wallberg-Henriksson H. Insulin action on glucose transport and plasma membrane GLUT4 content in skeletal muscle from patients with NIDDM. Diabetologia. 1996 Oct;39(10):1180–9. 
  8. Marliss EB, Vranic M. Intense exercise has unique effects on both insulin release and its roles in glucoregulation: implications for diabetes. Diabetes. 2002 Feb;51 Suppl 1:S271-283.

Rob Reid

Master of Pharmacy - MPharm, Medway School of Pharmacy

Robert is a highly creative and technical individual with a strong scientific background and experience in both hospital and community pharmacy currently interning as a medical writer at Klarity.

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