How to reverse type 2 diabetes with exercise

Reverse type 2 diabetes with exerciseEven though following a diabetic diet is the best way to reverse diabetes, it is also possible to reverse type 2 diabetes with exercise and insulin resistance supplements.

In this article we will examine how exercise can help you reverse type 2 diabetes. We will also consider how frequently you should exercise, how long you should exercise for, what level of intensity is best, and also what type of exercise is best for you to perform.

Population-wide studies have shown that the habit of life-long exercise significantly reduces a person’s risk of diabetes.1

Furthermore, even a single exercise session can improve insulin sensitivity.2 Plus, if the exercise session is of at least a moderate intensity then glucose uptake can increase by up to 40%!3

Unfortunately though, the ability of exercise, more specifically aerobic exercise, to reverse diabetes appears to be short-lived, lasting only for 2-3 days.4

However, greater volume (amount) and intensity (difficulty) appear to increase the effect of reversing diabetes.5

It is recommended to perform aerobic exercise every day or at the very least every second day. 20-30 minutes is all that is required.

Aerobic exercise may include: walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, boxing, using cardio machines at a gym, participating in an aerobics class, etc.

It appears that resistance exercise (weight training) may be more effective than aerobic exercise in reversing type 2 diabetes11. Since it is an intense form of exercise it simply makes sense that it will be effective.

As it is with aerobic exercise, the best results from resistance exercise come from high-volume and high-intensity workouts.6
Weight training can help reverse type 2 diabetes
Research has suggest performing 8 exercises (multiple-joint exercises), 3 sets per exercise, 6-8 reps per sets, and using 85% 1 repetition maximum (RM). The resistance exercise workouts should be performed at least twice a week.

It is possible that the best results in being able to reverse diabetes from exercise may come from performing both aerobic exercise and resistance training.

In fact, one study has shown that a group of post-menopausal women who performed aerobic exercise in combination with resistance training were able to reverse insulin resistance better than those women who only performed aerobic exercise or who were in the control group.7

Therefore, if you want to cure diabetes then regular exercise should become a permanent part of your lifestyle.

It is hypothesised that the improvements in insulin sensitivity as a result of exercise come simply from the loss of adipose tissue (fat). Whilst the loss of bodyfat is certainly a contributing factor, research demonstrates that exercise can reverse insulin resistance independent of weight loss.8

Exercise can reverse insulin resistance through various mechanisms:

  • Increased translocation of glucose transporters (GLUT4) to the cell membrane 9
  • Increased post-receptor insulin signalling 10
  • It seems that these mechanisms occur as a result of muscle contractions, which require the breakdown of ATP. ATP is considered to be the ‘raw fuel’ of muscle tissue (and all cells in the body).

    It consists of an adenosine molecule bonded to 3 phosphate molecules, hence the name, adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP). When ATP gets broken down it becomes ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) and then AMP (adenosine monophosphate).

    The generation of AMP within muscle cells stimulates the activity of an enzyme, adenosine monophosphate-activated kinase (AMPK).

    Theoretically, the breakdown of ATP into AMP would indicate that the muscles need to have its fuel stores replenished. Therefore, it makes sense that this in turn signals an enzyme (and more likely multiple enzymes) to improve insulin sensitivity to allow nutrients to flow into the cells.

    Furthermore, having a greater muscle mass would require greater uptake of glucose into the muscle cells to replenish glycogen stores post-exercise. This means that more muscle results in better insulin sensitivity.

    Therefore, by extension, a loss of muscle would result in a loss of insulin sensitivity and greater insulin resistance. Perhaps this loss of muscle is why we tend to become more insulin resistant as we age.

    In summary, it appears that exercise can effectively reverse insulin resistance and diabetes. Ideally, it should be performed every day or at least every second day for at least 20-30 minutes.

    Furthermore, a combination of both aerobic exercise and resistance training should be performed for best results. High-volume and high-intensity exercise session work best for reversing insulin resistance. However, this type of training may not be suitable for everyone and is certainly not sustainable long-term for most people.

    Therefore, it is best to simply create the habit of exercising every day, making it as enjoyable as possible.


    1. Manson JE, Nathan DM, Krolewski AS, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Hennekens CH. A prospective study of exercise and incidence of diabetes among US male physicians. JAMA. 1992 Jul 1; 268(1):63-7.
    2. Devlin JT, Hirshman M, Horton ED, Horton ES. Enhanced peripheral and splanchic insulin sensitivity in NIDDM after single bout of exercise.Diabetes 36:434–439, 1987
    3. Perseghin G, Price TB, Petersen KF, Roden M, Cline GW, Gerrow K, Rothman DL, Shulman GI. Increased glucose transport-phosphorylation and muscle glycogen synthesis after exercise training in insulin-resistance subjects. N Engl J Med 335:1357–1362, 1996
    4. King DS, Baldus PJ, Sharp RL, Kesl LD, Feltmeyer TL, Riddle MS. Time course for exercise-induced alterations in insulin action and glucose tolerance in middle-aged people. J Appl Physiol 78:17–22, 1995
    5. Dube JJ, Allison KF, Rousson V, Goodpaster BH, Amati F. Exercise dose and insulin sensitivity: relevance for diabetes prevention. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2012 May;44(5):793-9
    6. Black L, Swan P, Alvar B. Effects of Intensity and Volume on Insulin Sensitivity During Acute Bouts of Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning. 2010 24(4), 1109-1116
    7. Darcye J, Cuff MSC, Graydon S, Meneilly MD, Martin A, Ignaszewski A, Tildesley MD, Frohlich JJ. Effective exercise Modality to Reduce Insulin resistance in Women With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2003;26(11)
    8. Duncan GE, Perri MG, Theriaque DW, Hutson AD, Eckel RH, Stacpoole PW. Exercise training, without weight loss, increases insulin sensitivity and postheparin plasma lipase activity in previously sedentary adults. Diabetes Care 26:557–562, 2003
    9. Dohm GL. Regulation of skeletal muscle GLUT-4 expression by exercise. J Appl Physiol.2002;93:782–7.
    10. Juleen R. Zierath. Exercise training-induced changes in insulin signaling in skeletal muscle. J Appl Physiol. 2002;93:773–81.
    11. Ng, L., Tai, E., Goh, S., Wee, H. Health Status of Older Adults with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus after Aerobic or Resistance Training: A Randomized Trial. Health Quality of Life Outcomes. August 2011. 9(1), 59.


      1. Hi John, Thanks for your question. Yes, walking is fine, but you just have to do a lot of it in order to burn off a significant amount of energy/ calories. Nevertheless, it is certainly better than nothing so go for it!

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