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May 04, 2011

The Role of Physical Activity in the Maintenance of Type 2 Diabetes

Getting 150 minutes of exercise weekly improves blood sugar control in diabetics.

Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, is the most common type of diabetes in the United States. It is most often diagnosed in adults as a result of the body’s inability to produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels, and can lead to serious complications such as blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, and amputation of limbs.

To help properly maintain type 2 diabetes and prevent health complications, doctors recommend that patients exercise for at least 150 minutes each week. While it may sound challenging, that’s just over 20 minutes of exercise each day, which can have a big impact on your health.

Exercising can have significant health benefits for patients with type 2 diabetes, as physical activity causes muscles to take up glucose nearly 20 times the normal rate, helping to lower blood sugar levels. Exercise also helps to decrease body fat, blood pressure, and cholesterol, while increasing energy levels. All of these benefits help patients to maintain healthier blood sugar levels over time. Still need more evidence?

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that patients with type 2 diabetes participating in exercise (structured aerobic, resistance or combined training) saw a decline in hemoglobin A1c (blood sugar levels) of over 0.67%. In this study, researchers analyzed 47 clinical trials with 8,538 patients with type 2 diabetes who participated in at least 12 weeks of structured exercise training. Among participants, all types of structured exercise were associated with significant decreases in blood sugar, and those participating in more than 150 minutes of exercise each week saw the greatest health benefits, with nearly 3 times the reductions in hemoglobin A1c  than those participating in less than 150 minutes of exercise per week.

Perhaps most interesting is that this study did not show that more intensive exercise is associated with greater health benefits. Therefore, participating in any type of exercise, including low-impact, can have a significant impact on the health of patients with type 2 diabetes, and those sticking with their exercise regimen for over 150 minutes each week will see the greatest benefits over time. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • What type of exercise allows for the greatest health benefits for patients with type 2 diabetes?

  • A study found that structured aerobic exercise was associated with the greatest hemoglobin A1c  reductions, followed by structured resistance training and combined training. Physical activity and dietary advice were also associated with hemoglobin A1c  reductions, but only when combined together or with exercise training.

  • Did patients with type 2 diabetes exercising less than 150 minutes each week see any health benefits?
  • While patients participants in over 150 minutes each week saw the greatest blood sugar reductions (-0.89%), those exercising less than 150 minutes per week still saw positive results (-0.36%). So even if you can’t fit in over 150 minutes of exercise each week, participate in physical activity when possible - every little bit helps! 

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