Physical activity and exercise in type 1 diabetes

Regular physical activity is an important part of managing diabetes and improves fitness, health and wellbeing in many ways. It:

  • reduces blood glucose levels because the cells of the body take up glucose from the blood during exercise
  • helps with weight loss for people who are overweight, and increases the amount of active muscle tissue (aim for a body mass index [BMI] of less than 25)
  • lowers the amount of fat and cholesterol in the blood
  • lowers blood pressure
  • improves the health of the heart and circulatory (cardiovascular) system.


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About 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on 5 or more days per week is recommended for most adults. Many people will need to work up to this goal gradually — the important thing is to get started.

Aerobic exercise that increases heart rate, such as a brisk walk or climbing the stairs, and resistance exercises involving lifting moderate weights (8–10 repetitions) are recommended.

It’s important when starting an exercise program that your blood glucose levels and any diabetes-related complications (e.g. any foot problems and high blood pressure) are being managed by a health professional.

An exercise physiologist can provide advice on suitable exercises for people with diabetes and help you get started. Your doctor can refer you to an exercise physiologist. To find an exercise physiologist near where you live, go to the Exercise and Sports Science Australia website.

More in-depth information on physical activity for adults, children, teenagers and older people is available in the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing’s National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australians.

References
  • Craig ME, Twigg SM, Donaghue KC, et al for the Australian Type 1 Diabetes Guidelines Expert Advisory Group. National evidence-based clinical care guidelines for type 1 diabetes in children, adolescents and adults. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2011. www.diabetessociety.com.au/downloads/ Type1guidelines14Nov2011.pdf (accessed 15 November 2011).
  • Type 2 diabetes: priorities and targets. NPS NEWS (www.nps.org.au/health_professionals/publications/nps_news/current/type_2_diabetes_priorities_targets)
  • Yudkin JS, Richter B, Gale EA. Intensified glucose lowering in type 2 diabetes: time for a reappraisal. Diabetologia 2010;53:2079–85.
  • Turnbull FM, Abraira C, Anderson RJ, et al. Intensive glucose control and macrovascular outcomes in type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia 2009;52:2288–98.
  • Kearney PM, Blackwell L, Collins R, et al. Efficacy of cholesterol-lowering therapy in 18,686 people with diabetes in 14 randomised trials of statins: a meta-analysis. Lancet 2008;371:117–25.
  • Law MR, Morris JK, Wald NJ. Use of blood pressure lowering drugs in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of 147 randomised trials in the context of expectations from prospective epidemiological studies. BMJ 2009;338:b1665.