Sports and Diabetes

Sports and Diabetes

Sport, or any type of exercise, is suggested for all persons with diabetes due to its several health benefits, including better insulin sensitivity. Whether you participate in sports for competitive purposes or simply for leisure, it remains an excellent method to stay fit.

However, normal insulin synthesis and action are essential for a "correct" metabolic response to exercise during sporting activities. Due to an ineffective insulin response or a lack of insulin, people with diabetes must exercise extra caution when preparing for sports.

Still, this doesn’t mean people with diabetes shouldn’t exercise at all. Apart from its relevance in weight management, exercise is also crucial in reducing diabetes-related problems (e.g., heart diseases). Let's examine what research has in store on this topic in the face of people's widespread beliefs about sports and diabetes.

Benefits of sports and diabetes

It’s clear that insulin alongside other antidiabetic pills and dietary carbohydrate modification play a significant role in managing blood sugar levels. However, there’s a constant debate on how sports contribute to glycemic control. This section throws light on some recorded benefits of sporting activities on diabetes.

Blood Sugar Management

Sports are highly recommended for their blood sugar lowering effect. However, how is this accomplished? According to a British Journal of Sports Medicine article, exercising or partaking in sporting activities improves glucose uptake by boosting insulin sensitivity and lowering body fat.

Exercising alone or in combination with drug therapy and diet can also improve glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes. However, similar glycemic control improvements with exercise haven’t been established in type 1 diabetics.

Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is one of the most critical complications that develop because of diabetes. However, recent studies recommended moderate durations of aerobic sporting activities as a means of countering this disease. Notably, a Diabetes Care paper claims moderate to high volumes of aerobic activity can lead to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in type 1 and type 2 diabetics as well as a decreased overall mortality risk.

Possible Risks of Sports to Diabetics

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Possible Risks of Sports to Diabetics

While sporting activities are advised for people with diabetes, they can have negative impacts when done excessively. Hence, there’s a bone of contention on just how many sporting activities a diabetic can engage in. Here are the possible research-backed ill-effects sports can present to people with diabetes.


Sporting activities are primarily recommended for people with diabetes because of their blood glucose-lowering effects. Yet, science proves that when done excessively, it could result in hypoglycemia in some.

A 2006 clinical trial records a biphasic reduction in blood glucose levels following exercise in type 1 diabetic adolescents — immediately after training and 7–11 hours after the workout (late-onset hypoglycemia). Another study links this resulting hypoglycemia in type 1 diabetics to increased body insulin as well as an exercise-induced spike in insulin sensitivity.

Increased Blood Sugar

Although it seems misleading that sporting activities will cause an increased blood sugar level, however, when specific criteria are met, hyperglycemia due to exercise is possible.
Studies on this topic found that highly intensive sporting activities and anaerobic exercise (like heavy weightlifting and sprinting) may prompt a diminished glucose disposal rate, causing a spike in blood glucose levels. On the contrary, mildly intensive sporting activities (cycling, walking, and jogging) may affect glucose production rates, causing hypoglycemia. 

How Can Diabetics Participate in Sports?

How Can Diabetics Participate in Sports?

Irrespective of the benefits of sports in improving diabetes, certain things must be put in place before people with diabetes can safely engage in any sporting activity, as highlighted below.
Diabetics must be evaluated for any complications of pre-existing ailments before beginning any exercise to prevent potential crises.

Insulin-dependent diabetics should endeavor to supplement with carbs before and post-exercise, as well as during exercise in cases of exercise that persists for more than one hour.
Athletes on insulin secretagogues or insulin therapy should engage in a mix of resistance and regular aerobic exercise since they have an increased risk of immediate or late-onset exercise-induced hypoglycemia.

Patients with considerable hyperglycemia should steer clear of exercise/sporting activities since exercise-induced stress could prompt a paradoxical worsening of hyperglycemia that could potentially lead to ketoacidosis.

The Best Sports for Diabetics

The Best Sports for Diabetics

A recent survey conducted on 281 health professionals determined that cycling was the best sport for people with diabetes, following recommendations by 71% of doctors. Others include badminton (67%), dance/gymnastics (64%), hiking (62%), and golf (61%).

The lowest-ranked sports for diabetes patients are snowboarding/skiing (40%), rollerblading/skateboarding (38%), and rugby (37%). Such low recommendations were attributed to a heightened risk of falls in older type 2 diabetic adults that engage in these sports. Nonetheless, speaking to your doctor can assist in the selection of the ideal sports for you.



The available information on sports and diabetes proves that participation in sporting activities presents blood sugar-regulating benefits. However, there’s also an associated risk of hypoglycemia as well as hyperglycemia in certain sports. Overall, ensure you consult with your physician for the best advice on which sports to engage in.


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