There are now in 2023 over 4.3 million people in the UK with diabetes, of which 90% have type 2 diabetes. A further 2.4 million people have a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These are scary statistics, but the good news is that you can send type 2 diabetes into remission with a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disease which is characterised by an inability to control your blood sugar levels, due to insulin resistance. Put simply, insulin resistance is where your muscle cells are resistant to the effects of insulin, preventing glucose passing from the bloodstream and entering your muscle cells to be stored as glycogen and used for energy. I will go into more detail about insulin resistance in another blog post.
The main benefit of exercise for people with type 2 diabetes is that it helps increase your insulin sensitivity. In other words, your muscle cells become less insulin resistant, so that the insulin your pancreas produces becomes more effective in enabling your muscle cells to take up glucose from your bloodstream, so that you achieve healthy blood sugar levels.
Greater muscle mass also boosts your glycogen storage capacity, which will further help keep your blood sugar levels in balance.
Resistance exercise with dumbbells, barbells, resistance machines and resistance bands will help you build muscle and burn excess body fat. Obesity is a major risk factor for the onset of type 2 diabetes, and achieving a health weight and body composition (body fat percentage) will help drive type 2 diabetes into remission.
I’ve gone into more detail in other blog posts about the best way to build muscle. Simply search my blog by entering terms like ‘build muscle’ and ‘muscle growth‘ in my website search box and my blog posts on this subject will pop up.
Cardio exercise will strengthen your heart and lungs, boost stroke-volume (the volume of blood the heart pumps around the body with each beat), and promotes capillarization (the growth of new blood capillaries).
If you have type 2 diabetes, one complication is damage to your capillaries, so the growth of new capillaries in combination with getting your blood sugar levels under control, will help reduce the risk of complications like poor circulation in hands and feet, and the eye condition diabetic retinopathy.
Cardio exercise will also promote blood flow to and from your vital organs such as your liver and kidneys, which are also prone to complications if type 2 diabetes persists for several years.
(Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London and an online nutrition coach.)