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Can diet and exercise help reverse type 2 diabetes?

Can Diet and Exercise Help Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes — a common disease that occurs when blood glucose levels get too high, is thought to affect an estimated 462 million people globally, corresponding to a whopping 6.28% of the world's population! (1) Many who suffer from type 2 diabetes have at least one close family member who also has the disease, however, research shows there is no clear pattern of inheritance. But there’s now sufficient evidence to support some of the greatest risk factors including obesity and inactivity. It’s important to note that although there’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, research has shown it’s possible to reverse through diet and exercise. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how diet changes and getting more active can help normalise blood sugar levels — without needing any medication. (2)

  • Diet and Exercise Help

    Can type 2 diabetes be reversed with exercise?

    Physical exercise is one of the most effective ways of lowering blood sugar levels, and the NHS recommends you should aim to be getting around 2.5 hours of activity per week. (3)

    There are many forms of exercise that contribute in a positive way towards reversing type 2 diabetes, mainly because exercise helps the body become more sensitive to insulin. (4)

    With a quick Google search, you’ll find a plethora of research showing links between exercise and remission in type 2 diabetes.

    For example:

    A study published in the National Library of Medicine in 2016 was carried out to determine the rate of remission of recently diagnosed type 2 diabetes in overweight/obese individuals who were following a 6-month exercise program.

    The findings were a clear majority (8/10) of the subjects who took part went into at least partial remission thereby delaying the need for hypoglycemic medications.

    Moreover, the program brought about favourable effects on body composition, aerobic fitness and metabolic markers of cardiovascular risk such as CRP, insulin levels, insulin resistance, lipid parameters and blood pressure.

    What is the best exercise to reverse type 2 diabetes?

    Any exercise that gets the blood flowing through your body will work, however, it's essential to choose an exercise that you enjoy so you're more likely to stick with it long-term.

    Exercise is a great way to lose weight and there is strong evidence to suggest that type 2 diabetes is mainly put into remission by weight loss. (5)

    But just how much weight do you need to lose?

    Diabetes UK state that persons with obesity are more likely to see their diabetes go into remission after substantial weight loss — 15kg — carried out as quickly and safely as possible post-diagnosis. (6)

    However, taking off just 5% to 10% of your body weight can help you better manage your blood sugar levels and improve your overall health and well-being.

    A few great exercises to try include:

    • Walking
    • Cycling
    • Swimming
    • Weightlifting
    • Callisthenics
    • Running
    • Dancing
    • Yoga
    • HIIT
    • Pilates

    But remember the old saying ‘you can’t out-train a bad diet.’

    Yes, it's true. So while exercise is a great way of helping to reverse diabetes, it’s only effective when used in combination with a healthy diet.

    It’s also important to note that not everyone will achieve diabetes remission with weight loss.

  • What foods can reverse diabetes?

    No particular food is completely off-limits if you have diabetes, but you'll definitely want to cut back on certain types.

    There is however a wide range of healthy foods you can eat to help towards reversing type 2 diabetes.

    Chart of foods to reverse diabetes
  • Diet and Exercise

    Why do these foods help?

    Dark green leafy vegetables

    Leafy greens are high in fibre and low in calories while also being packed full of antioxidants and nutrients like magnesium and vitamin A which help to lower blood sugar levels.

    The carbohydrates found in vegetables provide energy but are less likely to cause a sugar spike reducing the amount of insulin your body needs than their refined counterparts.

    One study from the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology shows strong evidence to suggest that switching to a plant-based diet is highly beneficial for preventing and treating type 2 diabetes. (7)

    Fatty fish

    Good dietary fat is important for diabetics as it improves blood sugars and blood pressure. Fatty fish is an abundant source of Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) which helps to reduce inflammation and coronary risks which are common in diabetes.

    5 of the best fish varieties for diabetics include:
    • Salmon — particularly high in omega-3
    • Mackerel
    • Herring
    • Sardines
    • Tuna

    Potential benefits of the intake of fish on the development of type 2 diabetes could be attributed to its high content of dietary n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

    A large study published in Diabetes Care, analysing the health and diet of nearly 400,000 middle-aged and older UK residents across 10 years found people who eat one or more servings weekly of oily fish have a 22% lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared with those who never eat oily fish.

    It also concluded that people who eat less than one serving of oily fish weekly have a 16% lower risk of type 2 diabetes!

    Whole grains

    Wholegrain foods are great for keeping blood glucose levels in check because of their lower glycaemic index (GI). But, be mindful of how many you consume because wholegrain foods are still carbohydrates which affect blood glucose levels.


    Berries are a rich source of nutrients and score low on the glycemic index making them a great food source if you’re diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Recent research has shown that regular consumption of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries can wield beneficial effects in diabetes management by improving glycemic and lipid profiles. (8)

    Some useful tips to help you out include:
    • Eating a range of natural whole foods such as fruit and vegetables as well as some lean proteins daily
    • Limit foods containing refined sugar and keep salt to a minimum
    • Aim for a solid 3 meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) — try not to skip meals
    • Start off by implementing small changes to your diet on a weekly basis
    • Get properly hydrated with good water. In particular drink water that is clean with good structure and has alkaline antioxidant benefits.
    • There are many natural occurring products that are now available as food supplements that can be helpful for blood sugar control. One of the most popular is berberine, which has been shown in research to offer significant benefit.

    How long does it take to reverse type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise?

    Researchers at UCLA found that people recently diagnosed with diabetes who adopted healthy diet and fitness habits were able to reduce their blood sugar (glucose) levels by up to 40 mg/dLs before taking any medication in only three weeks!

    However, diabetes experts such as the Global Diabetes Community say it’s more likely to take between three to six months to reverse type 2 diabetes. (9)

    It may take one month to stabilize blood sugar (with or without medication), and then a couple of months or more for lifestyle changes to take effect.

  • Conclusion

    Both diet and exercise have a large impact on helping reverse type 2 diabetes

    Both diet and exercise have a large impact on helping reverse type 2 diabetes. A healthy diet will keep blood sugar levels in check while exercising helps your body with insulin sensitivity. However, to achieve the best results it’s imperative to combine both. Implementing small daily changes helps better reinforce diet and exercise habits over the long run making them easier to stick with. It has been shown that Type 2 diabetes can be reversed and considering the potential adverse effects it can have on physical health and premature dearth it is a course of action worth pursuing.

    Written by Kieran Higgins, Health Writer.

    Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.