Addressing Sedentary Lifestyle With Type 2 Diabetes

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Type 2 diabetes can be caused by a combination of a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. These factors can lead to insulin resistance, which, in turn, can cause type 2 diabetes to develop.

This article will discuss what a sedentary lifestyle is, how physical activity can reduce your risk and complications of diabetes, and ways to increase physical activity throughout the day.

Woman sitting down at desk

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What’s Considered a Sedentary Lifestyle?

A sedentary lifestyle is characterized by lying down or sitting for long periods of time. People with sedentary lifestyles rarely or never exercise and do not walk or move around much throughout the day. 

People with sedentary lifestyles do not meet the minimum requirements for physical activity. It is recommended that people get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. This can be spread out over three to seven days, with no more than two consecutive days of rest in between.

Aerobic exercise is any activity providing cardiovascular conditioning that gets your body moving for a prolonged period, such as:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Hiking
  • Bicycling
  • Swimming
  • Jumping rope
  • Dancing
  • Stair climbing
  • Rowing
  • Playing sports

Studies suggest that increased levels of physical activity can reduce the risk of diabetes by approximately 30%.

Risks for People With Type 2 Diabetes 

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest risk factors of type 2 diabetes. Exercise has a variety of benefits for managing diabetes, including decreasing body fat, lowering blood pressure, and lowering blood sugar while improving insulin resistance (when cells in your body don't respond well to insulin and can't convert glucose to energy).

Regular exercise can significantly reduce complications of diabetes and potentially reverse or prevent it. Exercising regularly increases the absorption of sugar (glucose) into cells in your muscles, liver, and fat. This improves the body's response to insulin, decreasing insulin resistance.

Without regular exercise, excess sugar stays in the bloodstream rather than being sent into muscles to be used for energy, disrupting the body’s response to insulin. This may lead to insulin resistance, with the body no longer releasing enough insulin to be taken up by cells, putting the body in a chronically elevated state of high blood sugar. This causes diabetes and widespread inflammation throughout the body.

Practical Ways to Increase Physical Activity 

Sedentary individuals should always start off slowly and gradually increase exercise intensity, duration, and frequency over time. Joining an exercise class or exercising with a friend or family member can help make exercising more enjoyable.

Other methods to increase physical activity throughout the day include:

  • Going for a 10- to 30-minute walk every day
  • Taking a five- to 10-minute break from sitting at your desk every hour to get up and walk around
  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator within buildings
  • Parking farther away from building entrances to increase the distance that you walk
  • Walking or riding your bike to places rather than driving your car
  • Taking your dog for a walk
  • Riding a stationary bicycle or walking on a treadmill while watching television

Always make sure to consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise program or increasing your exercise frequency, intensity, or duration. This will ensure that your heart, lungs, and blood vessels are healthy enough to support an increase in physical activity.


A sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes. It lessens the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels. Regularly exercising and adding more physical activity throughout the day can help lower your risk of diabetes and decrease diabetes-related complications by improving your blood sugar and insulin levels.

Getting around 150 minutes of exercise and physical activity per week is recommended. Small changes like walking daily, taking the stairs, and taking breaks from sitting can increase your level of physical activity.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does prolonged sitting do to insulin?

    Prolonged sitting reduces muscle activity, which can increase blood sugar levels and decrease insulin sensitivity, leading to insulin resistance.

  • What are easy ways to get moving with type 2 diabetes?

    Easy ways to get moving include performing physical household chores like cleaning and vacuuming, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and going for a daily walk.

  • Is sedentary behavior psychological?

    Sedentary behavior has a psychological component to it in that it makes people believe perceived barriers that exercise is difficult and too time-consuming to incorporate into daily routines.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need?

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  4. Kolb H, Martin S. Environmental/lifestyle factors in the pathogenesis and prevention of type 2 diabetes. BMC Med. 2017 Jul 19;15(1):131. doi:10.1186/s12916-017-0901-x.  

  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. Symptoms & causes of diabetes.

  6. Way KL, Hackett DA, Baker MK, et al. The effect of regular exercise on insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes mellitus: A systematic review and meta-analysisDiabetes Metab J. 2016;40(4):253-71. doi:10.4093/dmj.2016.40.4.253

  7. Stanford KI, Goodyear LJ. Exercise and type 2 diabetes: molecular mechanisms regulating glucose uptake in skeletal muscle. Adv Physiol Educ. 2014 Dec;38(4):308-14. doi:10.1152/advan.00080.2014.

  8. Sampath Kumar A, Maiya AG, Shastry BA, Vaishali K, Ravishankar N, Hazari A, Gundmi S, Jadhav R. Exercise and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes mellitus: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Phys Rehabil Med. 2019 Mar;62(2):98-103. doi:10.1016/

By Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT
Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, is a medical writer and a physical therapist at Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey.