Exercise and Diabetes

Editor's Note: When you see these three dots surrounded by a gray rectangle — 1 — you can click on it to get further information about the topic. Click a second time, and the message goes away.

This article was edited and updated on April 19, 2017.

What is diabetes?

This is the universal symbol for diabetes.

Most people believe that there are two types of diabetes: childhood and adult-onset. But there are actually four identified by the medical profession. They are:

What is glucose and what is insulin? How do they work together?

Glucose is the body's main energy source. Every cell in your body needs glucose. After you eat, your digestive system breaks carbohydrates down into glucose which then moves first into the bloodstream and then into cells. The liver and muscles store glucose in the form of glycogen.

Insulin is a much-needed hormone that helps to regulate your metabolism. It affects the way your body uses food for fuel.

Insulin has two important functions: (1) It allows glucose to pass into cells so that the body can use the energy provided by glucose, and (2) it assists in shutting off excess internal glucose productions. Without insulin's help, glucose would never reach your cells to provide energy.

When insulin doesn't work as it should, blood glucose levels remain high. This is called hyperglycemia. It used to be that you would be diagnosed with diabetes if you have two fasting blood glucose levels which are above normal. However, today doctors are more likely to look at your A1C score (an average of your blood sugar for the previous three months). If it rises above 7, medication or insulin may be required.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Early symptoms appear suddenly in Type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes typically occurs after the age of 40, but statistics show that more children and young adults are developing Type 2 diabetes.

Thanks to Wikipedia for this graphic.

Here are some more symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes (some of them are on the Wikipedia graphic):

The three most common symptoms of diabetes are fatigue, increased urination, and thirst.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor. A regular check of blood sugar levels is a good idea if there is diabetes in your family.

What are the complications of diabetes?

Persons with type 1 and type 2 diabetes face complications that are life-threatening. It is always the goal of diabetics to avoid these complications, of course. Some severe and life-threatening complications that might occur are:

The best way to prevent complications is through careful monitoring of glucose and insulin levels. As well, exercise and diet play an important role in controlling the disease.

Should I exercise if I have diabetes?

The short answer: YES!

Exercise is very important in managing all types of diabetes — but particularly Type 2.

Exercise will:

What kind of exercise should I do?

Before beginning an exercise program, do the following:

During your exercise program, do the following:

A diagnosis of diabetes, particularly Type 2, is not the end of an active lifestyle. In fact, it is even more important to exercise and maintain a healthy diet. 2 3

See also:

This article is part of a series about various health conditions and the benefits of exercise. The other articles are:

I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. 

  2. You will find a lot of good information on the Canadian Diabetes Association website. 

  3. Source for much of the information in this article: Exercise and Diabetes by Ana Abdulaziz Feeney and Gwen Hyatt. Published by DSW Fitness.