24-Hour Physical Activity Behaviors Help Type 2 Diabetes

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24-Hour Physical Activity Behaviors Help Type 2 Diabetes

In 2022, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) published a consensus report targeting the management of type 2 diabetes. This consensus report is geared towards health care providers who are supporting people living with this condition.

In addition to encouraging diabetes self-management education and focusing on glycemic control, the report focuses on other factors that should be considered. One of these is “24-hour physical activity behaviors.” You might be wondering what this means, and if it involves doing some sort of physical activity or exercise 24 hours a day! It does, to an extent, but not in the way that you might think.

Why physical activity matters

Being physically active is important for everyone, whether they have diabetes or not. But if you have diabetes or even prediabetes, including physical activity in your day should be at the top of your “to-do” list.

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It’s important to distinguish between exercise and physical activity, just in case you have visions of needing to hit the gym every day (because you don’t, unless you want to). Exercise is a type of physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive and it’s done to acquire health benefits and body fitness. Examples of exercise are:

Physical activity refers to any kind of movements that work your muscles and require more energy than resting. In addition to the types of activity listed above, other forms of physical activity include:

For people with diabetes, being active makes your body more sensitive to insulin, helping you more easily get and keep your blood sugars within your target range. Also, physical activity helps to lower the risk of heart disease, which is a leading cause of death in people with diabetes.

Physical activity behaviors

The ADA and EASD Consensus Report emphasizes the importance of regular aerobic exercise (meaning, exercise that involves large muscle groups) and resistance exercise (meaning, using your own body weight or working against a resistance). Both forms of physical activity can improve blood sugars, A1C levels, flexibility, and balance.

But the report also notes that, “A wide range range of physical activities, including leisure time activities, can significantly reduce HbA1c levels. Even small, regular changes can make a difference to long-term health, with an increase of only 500 steps /day associated with 2-9% decreased risk of cardiovascular morbidity and all-cause mortality rates.” This means that, while carving out time in your day to do some form of physical activity still stands, even small amounts of movement, such as a five-minute walk, can lower the risk of heart disease and increase your life expectancy.

Your 24-hour physical activity plan

What might your day look like, then? And what about sleep? Here’s how the consensus report breaks down this 24-hour plan.

Sitting/breaking up prolonged sitting

  • Too much sitting during the day? Not good. Break it up by doing “short regular bouts” of activity every 30 minutes.
  • Try going for a quick walk, climbing the stairs, marching in place, or doing some simple resistance exercises.
  • The benefits? Improved blood sugars and lower blood pressure.

Stepping

  • An increase of only 500 steps daily can do wonders for lowering your risk of heart disease and death.
  • That five-minute walk that you take after sitting for 30 or more minutes? That counts!
  • By the way, a five-minute brisk walk each day can help you live about four years longer.
  • Consider tracking your daily steps with a pedometer or fitness tracking device. Also, your smartphone can track steps, too, as long as you carry it with you.

Sweating

Sweating may not sound too appealing, but sweat or no sweat, getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity) for at least three or more days each week is the goal. Why?

  • This level of activity reduces insulin resistance (meaning, helps your insulin work better to control blood sugars), lowers heart disease risk, reduces depression, and helps with managing your weight.
  • A brisk walk is an example of moderate-intensity activity, whereas jogging is an example of vigorous-intensity activity.
  • A general goal might be to aim to be physically active for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. If 30 minutes sounds like too much all at once, break it up into two 15-minute or three 10-minute segments during the day.

Strengthening

  • Make sure to include two to three resistance, flexibility, and/or balance sessions during the week, as well. Lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing exercises like push-ups, and doing yoga are types of resistance exercises. Stretching, tai chi, and yoga help with flexibility. Tai chi is great for balance, as are these exercises recommended by the Mayo Clinic.

Sleep

Believe it or not, sleep is including in the 24-hour physical activity behaviors. Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for managing type 2 diabetes. Sleep disorders are common in type 2 diabetes, says the consensus report, and can disrupt quantity, quality, and timing of sleep, as well as contribute to obesity and higher blood sugars. Examples of sleep disorders include sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia.

  • Aim for between 6 and 8 hours of consistent, uninterrupted sleep — even on weekends. Too little and too much sleep negatively affects A1C and blood pressure levels.
  • If you’re a night owl and sleep late, you are more likely to be less physically active during the day compared with someone who gets up early and goes to bed early, too.
  • If you struggle with “sleep hygiene,” meaning, you don’t have daily routines that ensure you get consistent, uninterrupted sleep, talk with your health care provider to address possible sleep disorders and how to get into a better sleep routine.

The above guidelines are not intended to be overwhelming for you. Instead, these are recommendations for behaviors to fit into your daily routine. You might be doing some of these already! And if not, set goals to work toward them. Keep in mind, too, that while these are intended to help you manage diabetes and promote your heart health, these activities can do so much more: they’ll improve your mood, lessen depression, and boost your quality of life.

Want to learn more about exercising with diabetes? Read “Exercise for Beginners,” “Add Movement to Your Life,” “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals” and “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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