Exercise More Difficult for People With Type 2 Diabetes

Women with Type 2 diabetes experience physical effects that make exercise more difficult, according to new research out of the University of Colorado. An estimated 29 million people in the United States are living with Type 2, and another 86 million have prediabetes and are at increased risk of developing the condition.

Physical activity is known to have a wide variety of health benefits, including improving blood sugar control, burning fat, and improving heart health. In spite of this, many people who have Type 2 diabetes are sedentary.


To evaluate why this might be the case, researchers looked at 54 overweight women — 26 with Type 2 diabetes and 28 without — between the ages of 50 and 75 who reported doing less than one hour of exercise per week. (Women were studied because they are typically more impacted by the effects of Type 2 diabetes on physical activity and heart health than men.) All of the participants pedaled on a stationary bike at a low to moderate level of intensity, similar to what is required to walk one mile in 25 minutes. While they were exercising, the women reported how hard they were working while also having blood drawn to measure their lactate levels (an indication of effort that increases with the level of exertion).

Compared to the women without Type 2 diabetes, those with the condition reported working much harder to complete the exercise and also had significantly higher levels of lactate. According to the researchers, this suggests that common physical activities such as climbing stairs feel more difficult to people who have Type 2 diabetes.

Although the study did not determine the exact cause of the findings, possible explanations include that people with diabetes cannot convert the nutrients from their food into fuel for their muscles as easily and that their bodies do not respond properly to exercise by, for example, redirecting blood flow to the muscles being used.

These findings are important for helping people with Type 2 diabetes find a form of exercise that won’t leave them exhausted.

“If possible, all adults should gradually increase their activity to target at least 30 minutes of activity on most days, as this leads to many major health benefits. It’s fine if people reach these goals in short intervals, such as 10-minute brisk walks,” noted study author Amy Huebschmann, MD, MS.

For more information, read the article “Type 2 diabetes patients find exercise more difficult, says study” or see the study’s abstract in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care. And to learn how to make physical activity more enjoyable, see the piece “Making Exercise More Fun,” by exercise physiologist and certified diabetes educator Richard Weil.

If you are or are the parent of an adolescent or teen with Type 1 diabetes, you may be interested in a study that is currently recruiting participants. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.

  • Joan McKniff

    What might the recommended exercises be? Age 74, diabetes 2, osteoarthritis on both knees, septic shock and long hospital/rehab stay this spring, and exhausted so easily.

    • RAWLCM

      Take a look a David Spero’s current blog on yoga.

      • Joan McKniff

        Will look for it. Thanks.

      • Joan McKniff

        found it; sounds very interesting. Need to check but I think we even have a chair yoga class nearby. thanks so much.


    It’s true that people with type 2 diabetes tire faster and the same work take more effort than someone without diabetes. It’s also true that many people with type 2 also suffer from chronic pain, and in my experience, contrary to conventional wisdom, which says exercise relieves pain, exercise aggravates pain. It’s so easy to tell people to diet and exercise, but for many of us exercise HURTS, and I’m not talking sore muscles, I mean serious pain.

    • Peter Anthony Gurdev

      Are you on statins by any chance?

  • LaDonn Jonsen

    Yes, yes, yes…. But, this tiring from exercise and daily tasks didn’t just come with the pre-diabetes I have, it seems more of a lifelong thing. I must force myself to exercise, push myself to get tasks done, thinking I am lazy, knowing I am not, but the idea keeps resurfacing. I do get pain relief from formal exercise for the hip issues and generalized osteoarthritis… Pain itself is so very exhausting, might just well exercise, get rid of some of the pain to feel normal for an hour or so, and stay up on my feet frequently. Sitting is the new smoking, as the mantra. Sometimes, I enjoy the exercise, but most often, I’d rather be doing something I do enjoy – most of which happens to be more sedentary in nature. I try to be as active as I can. My latest idea is to get a decent stepper and put it in the area with the TV and where we congregate most. When I feel the need to be active, I would just get on it and do a 10 min. workout. I have lost 20 lbs, so far, and need to lose at least 20 more. So this is always on my mind. Monitoring every morsel of food and movement or lack of is also tiring. I workout daily at my PT clinic on the recumbent, stepper, treadmill and elliptical, about 10 minutes on each machine. Might supplement with a bike ride on the trail for several miles. I am thinking of joining a gym when my PT clinic visits are over with. With winter coming on and black ice everywhere here, going outdoors for exercise is risky business for us ancients! It will be interesting to see if science can discover why certain people tire from exercise so easily. LJ

    • Peter Anthony Gurdev

      It sounds like you are doing too much cardio

  • Peter Anthony Gurdev

    High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or weight traing is the most effective type of training for diabetics. You do not have to become a pro body builder but the more lean muscle you have the more insulin sensitive you become