World Diabetes Day: the benefits of physical activity

Thursday 14 November is World Diabetes Day. It is a campaign led by the International Diabetes Federation and its member associations, which is celebrated every year. In recognition of the day, the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) is raising awareness of the benefits of physical activity in controlling diabetes Type 1 and 2. In addition, the prevention of Type 2 through regular exercise in both cardiovascular and resistance training.

EFDS recognises the part sport and physical activity have to play in the lives of disabled people with diabetes. As well as supporting the sport and fitness sector to be more inclusive, we encourage disabled people to be active at whatever level they choose.

World Diabetes Day aims to engage millions of people in response to growing concerns about the escalating health threat that diabetes now poses. This year’s campaign theme is Diabetes Education and Prevention.

People with diabetes are classed as disabled and it is termed as a hidden impairment. Many people with diabetes would not class themselves as disabled, nevertheless, they can fall within the scope of the Equality Act 2010 and therefore benefit from the Act’s protection. Some people with diabetes will have additional impairments as a result of diabetes, for example visual impairment due to retinopathy.

All disabled people are as prone to diabetes as the population as a whole, but other risk factors should also be borne in mind. Those who are overweight, physically inactive or have a family history of diabetes are at increased risk of developing diabetes.[1]

Diabetes UK estimates there are 2.9 million people who have been diagnosed with diabetes in the UK (2011). By 2025, it is estimated that five million people will have diabetes across the country. It is equivalent to:

  • more than 400 people every day
  • over 17 people every hour
  • around three people every ten minutes

(Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) 2009)

“Diabetes is serious. If left untreated, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, blindness, and kidney failure. Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly.”

Diabetes UK


The figures are alarming and confirm that diabetes is one of the biggest health challenges facing the UK today. Most of the new cases will be Type 2 diabetes, because of our ageing population and rapidly rising numbers of people who are overweight or obese. The majority of guidelines for people with diabetes recommend physical activity (including aerobic and/or resistance training) several times a week.

That is why EFDS programmes like Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI) plays a crucial role as it leads the way in providing accessible physical activity and increasing disabled people’s participation. EFDS has been delivering the programme for over ten years and in this time has accredited over 400 IFI Mark gym facilities nationally. These facilities value accessibility and service provision is for disabled people.

Types of diabetes

Key information below regarding diabetes and the population is provided from the Diabetes UK report.

There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes develops if the body cannot produce any insulin. Insulin is a hormone which helps the glucose to enter the cells where it is used as fuel by the body. Type 1 diabetes usually appears before the age of 40. It is the least common of the two main types and accounts for around 10 per cent of all people with diabetes.

Recent research in prevention and management of Diabetes include a study comparing the effects of aerobic exercise and resistance exercise on blood sugar levels in people with Type 1 diabetes. They looked at how these two types of exercise affected blood sugar levels during and after workouts. Results showed that blood sugar levels dropped more during aerobic exercise than during resistance exercise.[2]

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance). In most cases this is linked with being overweight. This type of diabetes usually appears in people over the age of 40, though in South Asian people, it often appears after the age of 25. However, recently, more children are being diagnosed with the condition, some as young as seven.

Type 2 diabetes is the more common of the two main types and accounts for around 90 per cent of people with diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is on the increase not only due to our relatively sedentary lifestyles but also attributes of an aging population as well as the rise in the numbers of overweight and obese people.

Last year, IFI produced a guide with and for Age UK to support older disabled people in fitness. Recommendations and good practice are supported by learning and project outcomes of Age UK Fit as a Fiddle, which champions physical activity, healthy eating and wellbeing programmes for older disabled people.

The guide is available to download here.

Another study showed that sitting around for long periods raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and premature death, even for people who have the amount of daily physical activity recommended by health professionals.[3]

With 21 million Europeans being treated for diabetes it is becoming a potential epidemic so much so that it has prompted the EU Commission to deploy funds towards a large research project called PREVIEW. It aims to find the most effective combination of diet, exercise and lifestyle related to type-2 diabetes prevention.

More information

Organisations like Diabetes UK and (the global diabetes community) have also developed resources to support people with or at risk of diabetes to control their condition through diet and exercise. Fitness providers, like the IFI accredited facilities, may find their information below useful to promote to gym members or support those that are currently inactive.

The Easy Health website provides resources from different organisations that present health information in easy to understand and eye-catching format, using simple words, photos, symbols and pictures. It supports people with a learning disability to access a range of information on diabetes.

Exercise providers may already know of or be delivering GP referrals for people with diabetes. EFDS is always looking for good practice on how you have delivered this within the community. We would like to share good news stories on the benefits of physical activity for disabled people.

For more information on the Inclusive Fitness Initiative or to share good practice, contact Jules Twells by email or call her mobile number 07792 459803

There is no doubt that physical activity is important in managing both types of diabetes. Our message through the IFI programme is "Let's get physicALL". (Use Twitter #letsgetphysicALL to follow the conversation).

If you are a disabled person looking for an inclusive gym or a participation opportunity near you, visit our IFI facility search or events pages. There is something for everyone to enjoy. More information on World Diabetes Day can be found by clicking here. 




[2] Ronald J. Sigal, MD, MPH, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Calgary in Canada

[3] Wilmot, E. et al University of Leicester - Diabetologia


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