When is the best time to exercise and does it matter for people with type 2 diabetes?

A review of studies shows that while all activity is important, both type and timing matters

By Dr Edith Holloway

Regular physical activity is an important part of managing type 2 diabetes. It helps to lower glucose levels and boost how well the body is able to use insulin.

A review published in The American Journal of Medicine asked how exercise affects glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. The review was led by researchers at Rutgers University. They looked at both: 1) the type of activity and 2) the timing of when people take part in exercise. 

The authors summarised the results of over 70 studies. They found several key factors are important for lowering glucose levels. We summarise these below as ‘action points’.

The timing of activity matters:

      • move throughout the day and break up long periods of sitting: this lowers glucose levels and benefits insulin levels
      • schedule activity after meals: this may help to keep HbA1c within target rage over a longer period of time
      • include activity later in the day: this may lower glucose levels and benefit insulin sensitivity

The type of activity matters:

      • include some form of aerobic exercise during your week: this is any type of activity that increases your heart rate and breathing rate, e.g. running, cycling, tennis
      • include some strength or resistance training: these are short bursts of activity that increase your heart rate.
      • Both may help the body to use insulin better by increasing insulin sensitivity. They also reduce the risk of heart disease

In general, any movement is important, and the more the better.

These approaches to physical activity may not result in changes in body weight over time. But, the authors report that there are many other health benefits, such as improved mental health, memory, and sleep, in addition to the benefits for glucose levels. So, it is important not to be put off exercise just because it doesn’t make a big difference to body weight.

The authors acknowledge that these results do not consider characteristics such as a person’s age, gender, cultural background or their level of fitness and health. These factors may also be important for exercising safely with type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes health professionals need to encourage physical activity as an important tool to manage glucose levels and for improving overall health and well-being.

Check out our other blogs focused on type 2 diabetes.


Reference: Syeda UA, Battillo D, Visaria A & Malin SK. The importance of exercise for glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. American Journal of Medicine Open, 2023. doi.org/10.1016/j.ajmo.2023.100031.

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