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How Does Regular Endurance Exercise Reduce the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes?

Endurance Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes

Endurance exercise vs strength exercise

Endurance exercise and strength exercise are both very beneficial to adults adopting a healthier lifestyle. Endurance exercise, also called aerobic training, focuses on helping the body perform repetitive movements for long periods of time. Comparatively, strength exercise, also called resistance training, focuses on helping the body build muscle for strength to lift heavier objects, jump higher, or run faster.

Endurance exercise activities include things that can be done over long periods or long distances, including biking, walking, running, or swimming. It can also include performing a high number of repetitions with low weight objects. These activities are typically low or moderate intensity. Strength exercise activities focus on building muscle, including lifting heavy weights for minimal reps, and other exercises that focus on the body’s major muscle groups.   

Endurance exercise and Type 2 diabetes

Regular exercise has been the accepted recommendation, along with a monitored, balanced diet, for preventing and managing Type 2 diabetes (T2D). However, for many years, there was a lack of high-quality scientific studies examining the exact significance of regular physical activity for these patients. Now, there are many resources that prove the significance of physical activity, including endurance exercise, in lowering the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and maintaining low blood sugar levels.

Recent scientific studies have established that physical activity can prevent or delay the development of Type 2 diabetes by improving blood glucose control. Regular exercise also has a positive effect on lipids, blood pressure, cardiovascular events, and overall longevity and quality of life. In combination with a balanced diet to promote weight loss, exercise can lower the risk of T2D by up to 58% in high-risk populations. Regular high-intensity exercise also produces an immediate decrease in blood glucose levels, increase in insulin sensitivity, and decrease in glycated hemoglobin.

One study found that a single bout of high-intensity endurance exercise can improve insulin-stimulated glucose disposal for a minimum of 12 hours in people who are insulin resistant or suffer from obesity. However, another study shows a positive correlation between low-intensity endurance exercise and Type 2 diabetes. In the study, walking was shown to cause a significant acute reduction in blood glucose levels in older T2D patients. Patients, particularly those aged 50 and older who may also suffer from other health issues, may find it easier to stick to a low-intensity endurance exercise regimen, making it a more successful long-term option.  

If you wish to begin an endurance exercise regimen, be sure to speak to your doctor about the following factors:

  1. Your overall health and whether intense endurance exercise is safe for you.
  2. Your blood sugar goals for before, during, and after each bout of exercise.
  3. How often you should check your blood sugar during exercise sessions.
  4. Whether it is necessary to adjust your medication and/or insulin to support your endurance training goals.
  5. How your diet should be altered to maintain a healthy diabetes diet while also providing the nutrition needed for increased physical activity. This may include a referral to a dietitian specializing in diabetes nutrition.

Risks of endurance exercise and Type 2 diabetes

While regular exercise can help lower your blood sugar levels over time, significant, acute decreases in blood sugar can be dangerous. Intense bouts of exercise, including endurance exercise, pose a risk to people with Type 2 diabetes as it can increase their risk of low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia.

Signs of hypoglycemia include:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Hunger
  • Pale skin

If you experience any of these symptoms during exercise, stop your workout and check your blood sugar level. Proper nutrition after an exercise session is also important for preventing hypoglycemia. After exercise, opt for whole grains, fruit, or dairy items that are high in carbohydrates. Eating a balanced meal within 2 hours of your workout is recommended. If you wish to live a healthier lifestyle, there is significant proof of a positive relationship between endurance exercise and Type 2 diabetes.


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Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.
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