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Exercise and physical activity: healthy livingĀ 

This page discusses physical activity and exercise.

Contents 

The benefits of activity and exercise 

Frequent and regular physical activity is recommended for people of all ages and can have the following health benefits: 

  • It burns calories, helping you lose or maintain weight. 
  • It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. 
  • It improves circulation. 
  • It reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. 
  • It strengthens muscles and bones. 
  • It promotes better mental health. 
  • It boosts self esteem and confidence. 
  • It enhances sleep quality. 
  • It increases energy levels. 
  • It protects against dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

For people with diabetes, there are two other important benefits of regular physical activity: 

  • It increases the amount of glucose used by the muscles for energy. 
  • It helps the body to use insulin better. 

Because of this, exercise can impact on blood glucose control. The extent of this impact will vary depending on the type of diabetes you have, how you manage it, the type and duration of the physical activity and whether you have any diabetes-related complications.  

It is always beneficial to discuss any planned changes to your activity levels with your diabetes care team, who will be able to help you develop an appropriate blood glucose management plan suited to your individual needs.  

Current recommendations 

Adults (aged 18–64)  

To stay healthy, adults aged 18–64 should try to be active daily. They should do the following: 

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and   
  • Strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) 

Alternatively 

  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and  
  • Strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) 

Alternatively 

  • A mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. For example, two 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, and  
  • Strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).  

Adults (aged 65 +)

Adults aged 65 or older who are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit their mobility should try to be active daily. They should do the following: 

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or walking every week, and  
  • Strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). 

Alternatively 

  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and  
  • Strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).  

Alternatively 

  • A mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. For example, two 30-minute runs, plus 30 minutes of fast walking, equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, and  
  • Strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).  

All adults should minimise the amount of time spent sitting for extended periods. 

Different types of exercise 

As the guidelines above outline, there are two types of activity that are important in managing diabetes: aerobic exercise and strength training. 

Aerobic exercise 

Aerobic exercise (also sometimes known as ‘cardio’) is exercise that increases your heart rate. This type of exercise helps your body use insulin better. It also helps to strengthen your heart and bones and improves your blood circulation. It lowers your blood glucose levels and blood pressure, while improving your cholesterol levels, and therefore also reduces your risk of heart disease. 

Examples of aerobic activities 

  • Brisk walking (outside or on a treadmill) 
  • Cycling (outside or on a stationary bike) 
  • Dancing 
  • Aerobics or other gym classes such as zumba or circuits 
  • Climbing stairs 
  • Jogging or running 
  • Moderate to heavy gardening

Strength training  

This type of exercise can also make your body more sensitive to insulin and can lower blood glucose. It helps to maintain strong muscles and bones, reducing your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even when your body is at rest. Preventing muscle loss by strength training is key to continuing to be able to live independently as you age. 

Examples of strength-training activities

  • Weight machines or free weights 
  • Resistance bands 
  • Lifting light weights or items such as tins of food or water bottles 
  • Exercises that use your own body weight to work your muscles, e.g. press-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, planks 
  • Other activities that build and keep muscle, e.g. heavy gardening 

How to be more active throughout the day 

All adults, but particularly those with type 2 diabetes, should minimise the amount of time they spend being sedentary for extended periods. It is important to take every opportunity to get up and move around.  
In addition to taking formal exercise, there are many chances to be more active throughout the day. If you spend prolonged periods of time sitting you should make a point of interrupting these with bouts of light activity every 30 minutes. The more you move, the more calories you burn off and the easier it can be to control your blood glucose levels. Listed below are some simple strategies that can help you be more active in your daily life: 

At work 

  • Take the stairs instead of the lift. 
  • Get up from your desk and have a quick walk around every half-hour. 
  • Stand up and stretch at your desk. 
  • If you go out for lunch, take the opportunity to have a walk. 
  • If you take the train or bus to work, get off a stop earlier. 
  • Try some chair exercises while at your desk. 

At home 

  • Take the dog for a walk – if you already do this, walk faster or take a longer walk. 
  • Play with the kids – play football or throw a Frisbee around the park. 
  • Carry things from the car or upstairs in two or three trips, rather than one. 
  • Do your own housework/gardening. 
  • Walk on the spot during TV ad breaks. 
  • Walk around the house, or up and down the stairs, when you talk on the phone. 

Out and about 

  • Park as far away as you can from the shops. 
  • Walk down every aisle in the supermarket. 

Why not try to introduce some of these ideas for a brief period (5–15 minutes) after a meal. It will help to minimise the impact of food on your blood glucose levels. 

Reducing the amount of time spent sitting by incorporating some of the above into your daily routine can help with both weight management and diabetes control. 

Useful resources 

For more information and support on exercising, see Exercise and physical activity: the impact on blood glucose  

For additional information relating to physical activity guidelines: 

For adults aged 19-64 years old click here.  

For older adults aged 65+ click here.  

For Government infographics on physical inactivity click here

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