Type 2 diabetes and physical activity

It is generally accepted that being active and eating healthy is good for us. Moreover, getting active and staying active can help you to manage your diabetes or help you reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes.With summer around the corner, there is no better time than now to get moving!


  • Physical activity is fundamental in the management of Type 2 diabetes.1
  • Physical activity lowers morbidity and mortality in Type 2 diabetes.1
  • Both aerobic and resistance training assist in managing Type 2 diabetes.1
  • People with Type 2 diabetes should aim to perform 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week at 50 to 70% of their maximum heart rate, as well as resistance training three times per week.1
  • For adults with diabetes, flexibility and balance training is recommended 2 to 3 times per week.1
  • Before embarking on any physical exercise regimen, any existing conditions and cardiovascular risks need careful assessment.1
  • Before starting with a physical exercise regimen, patients using insulin and/or sulphonylureas – an oral antidiabetic medication – should seek counselling about the symptoms and risks of hypoglycaemia.1

Always consult with your healthcare professional before beginning an exercise programme.

Being active will1:

  • Assist you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Lower blood glucose levels by increasing the amount of glucose used by the muscles for energy.
  • Help reduce the amount of insulin you must inject as exercise assists the body to use insulin more efficiently.
  • Improve your diabetes management (particularly Type 2 diabetes).
  • Strengthen your bones.
  • Reduce stress levels and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Getting active: some tips

Being more physically active need to involve expensive gym memberships, jogging at five in the morning, or noisy aerobic sessions with sweaty people you don’t know. With the smallest adjustment to your lifestyle, you can fit exercise into your daily life without breaking the budget. Just follow these tips to help make your life more active.

  1. Enjoy yourself

You’re more likely to stick to an activity if you enjoy it. Try an activity that you can enjoy with friends or family. How about reigniting your passion for a sport you did years ago? Whatever you do, do it with a smile on your face!

  1. Go slow

It’s not a race. Give your body time to adapt as your muscles strengthen. Build up gradually and try and do a bit more than you did the day before.

  1. One small change at a time

Walking is a great, simple and cost-effective way to improve your fitness. Just 10 minutes a day of brisk walking can make a difference to your health.2

  1. Set goals

Set realistic short-term and long-term targets. It’s much easier to stick to a new exercise regimen if you have a goal in mind. Keep a notebook to record your progress and you’ll be amazed at the improvement and progress you’ll see.

  1. Mix it up a bit

Vary your routine so you don’t get bored. Once you are fitter and exercising regularly, try swapping cycling on an exercise bike for cycling outdoors, or try a new class at the gym. As they say, variety is the spice of life!

  1. Invite others to join you

Exercising with your friends is a great way to bond. Suggest doing something active. Start a walking club, play tennis or golf, or hit the dance floor.

  1. Persevere

Although you may not see or feel results overnight, your body will benefit as soon as you become active. So, stick with it and you’ll soon see the positive results.

Exercise – the numbers:

  • Stand: if possible, try and stand for at least half of your day.
  • Take a standing break: every 30 – 45 minutes get up and take a stroll.
  • Walk: aim for 10 000 steps a day. Do this wherever you can.
  • Light activity: just keep moving for as much as possible during the day.
  • Moderate intensity activity: stick to your goals and aim for 150 minutes per week.


  1. SEMDSA Guidelines for the Management of Type 2 Diabetes. Journal of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa. JEMDSA 2017 22(1) supplement 1 pages S1 – S196
  2. Diabetes UK: Getting active and staying active [Internet] [cited 2019 Feb 20]. Available from https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/exercise 

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