Can Exercise Reverse Diabetes?

In many cases, it is possible to reverse diabetes and prediabetes with lifestyle changes. Physical activity can also lower blood sugar.
Can Exercise Reverse Diabetes?
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

In many cases, it is possible to reverse diabetes and prediabetes with lifestyle changes. These changes can include losing weight, choosing healthier foods, and getting more sleep. Another healthy choice to lower blood sugar is to get more physically active.

We know that insulin resistance causes diabetes, and that exercise reduces insulin resistance. Does it follow that exercise can reverse diabetes? If so, how much and what types of exercise work? And, how can Lark Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) help you get active? Let’s take a look!

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Exercise, Insulin Resistance, and Blood Sugar

Physical activity, which includes exercise, directly impacts blood sugar. It increases insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar. The effects of intense, long-lasting physical activity, say, up to two hours, last for as much as 48 hours. Shorter amounts of exercise can lead to lower blood sugar and improved insulin sensitivity for about 24 hours, which is a good reason to include physical activity every day! 

A review article published in Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine looked at 11 studies that investigated the effects of exercise on blood sugar. The authors calculated an average decrease in A1C, a long-term indication of blood sugar levels, of 0.63%. The average decrease in blood sugar was 5 mg/dl. These amounts are both large enough to be important.

Exercise may directly lower blood sugar, but Harvard Medical School points out that exercise can also help with weight control. That is another way exercise can benefit blood sugar. Of course, the benefits of exercise go far beyond reversing insulin resistance. They include improved mood, reduced “bad” LDL cholesterol, lower cholesterol, and healthier bones.

Aerobic Activity to Reverse Diabetes

Aerobic activity is what many people think of when they think of exercise. It includes prolonged activities that get your heart rate up and make you breathe faster. Aerobic exercise improves insulin resistance and helps lower blood sugar, and is one of the most effective ways to reverse prediabetes.

There are many activities to choose from that are moderate to vigorous-intensity. There are sure to be a few that fit your personality, resources, and mood!

  • At the gym or on home equipment: treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, rowing machine
  • Outdoors: brisk walking, hiking, jogging, bicycling (with safety precautions), playing with the kids
  • Sporty: soccer, basketball, softball
  • Group fitness: dance classes, circus training classes, aerobics, kickboxing classes
  • Around the house: digging, weeding, sweeping, raking, mowing the lawn, vacuuming, mopping, washing windows

Your Lark coach can remind you to get active and can even suggest activities for you to do. You can also log your activities in Lark so you can see your progress and boost motivation.

Strength Training to Reverse Diabetes

Aerobic activity may come to mind first, but resistance or strength training is another option!

In fact, the American Diabetes Association says people who do both aerobic and resistance training have lower blood sugar than those who participate in one or the other. 

Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine points out that resistance training is a viable option for people who may have trouble achieving aerobic physical activity goals due to barriers such as difficulty with mobility, neuropathy, or limited space or facilities to perform aerobic workouts.

Myths and Facts Around Resistance Training
Myth Fact
Resistance training will bulk you up.
Resistance training can help you slim down.
Lifting lighter weights will have more benefits.
Heavier weights can improve glycemic control more than light weights.
You need weight machines at a gym to do resistance training.
Exercises with dumbbells, resistance bands, and body weight can be effective at home.
Resistance training causes injuries.
Resistance training reduces injuries, when done properly.

When performing strength training activities, it is important to practice good form. Asking a trainer at a gym or over a video call online can lead to some good pointers to prevent injury and get the most benefits from each movement.

In the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain that you can repeat an exercise until it would be difficult to do another repetition due to muscle fatigue.

An Exercise Schedule to Reverse Diabetes

Any aerobic or resistance training exercise that you do can help lower blood sugar or prevent diabetes, but following a schedule or plan can help with motivation and accountability to increase the chances of hitting goals consistently. 

You now know which types of exercises can lower blood sugar, but you also need to know how much to do before you can create an exercise schedule to reverse diabetes. The American Diabetes Association suggests getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity in addition to 2 to 3 sessions of resistance training per week. Lark can help you set activity goals and stay on track to hit them.

These are some additional pointers.

  • Going for more than 2 consecutive days without exercise can lessen the benefits of your exercise plan.
  • Higher-intensity activities, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can offer additional benefits over moderate-intensity activities.
  • Resistance training should not be done on consecutive days; that is, there should be at least one day after performing resistance training before the next session of resistance training.
  • When it comes to aerobic activities, it is okay to break up longer sessions into sessions as short as 10 minutes.
  • A day per week of rest can lower injury risk and prevent burnout.
  • Logging your physical activity can increase accountability.

Your own program will be unique depending on your exercise preferences and schedule. These are some sample weeks for different people.

It is safest to consult a healthcare provider as you create an exercise plan or before you try new activities or make significant changes to your current exercise regimen.

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A Few Reminders for Best Results

Exercise is relatively effective, safe, and affordable. That is why it is great to include exercise as part of your plan to reverse prediabetes. 

These reminders can help you make exercise even more effective.

  1. Exercise is good, and exercise PLUS other lifestyle changes are better. Along with physical activity, choices that can help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes include losing extra weight, getting adequate sleep, and managing stress. Lark DPP includes coaching in all of these areas!
  2. Logging activity with Lark lets you see progress and receive personalized coaching such as suggestions and reminders.
  3. It can take a while to work up to achieving exercise recommendations. It is a good idea to start at your own level, remembering that even doing a minute or two is a start, and is something you can build on as you keep working at it.
  4. The potential effects of exercise vary, depending on factors such as causes of high blood sugar, other steps you take to lower blood sugar, and how long or how far progressed your diabetes is. In any case, increasing physical activity, as long as your healthcare provider approves, can usually improve blood sugar and reduce insulin sensitivity. 
  5. Safety first. Staying safe and preventing injury can mean getting your healthcare provider’s approval for your exercise plan, taking rest days when you need them, and asking an expert to show you new exercises to make sure you are doing them with proper form to avoid injury.

Getting physically active is one of the most impactful choices you can make to lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It can be challenging to hit exercise recommendations or be consistent with a program, but having Lark Diabetes Prevention Program in your pocket can help.

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Lark offers personalized coaching designed to help you make choices that are known to lower the risk for diabetes. The program can help you achieve physical activity goals by providing information, reminders, and feedback when you log your activity or other health information.  Lark is available 24/7 through your smartphone to help you succeed.

You may be eligible to join Lark Diabetes Prevention Program at no cost to you if your health insurer offers it as a covered benefit. Just click here to get started in finding out!