Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise: Which is Right for You

If you’re among the more than 34 million Americans currently living with diabetes, it probably comes as no surprise to hear that exercise can be extremely beneficial in managing your disease. In fact, hopefully you’ve already begun a doctor-recommended fitness program. If not, there’s certainly more than enough evidence to point you in that direction.

As a general rule, regular activity is good for everyone. It improves heart health, contributes to weight loss, speeds metabolism, builds muscle mass, increases HDL cholesterol (that’s the good one!), and even tends to lift the spirits and provide a good boost of energy to help us all get through the day. However, for those of us living with diabetes, exercise does something else that is critically important to our health and wellbeing.

Regular exercise has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and, over time, increase the body’s insulin sensitivity. This is a huge advantage in managing diabetes, as those of us living with the disease often find ourselves in a relentless battle to keep blood glucose levels in check. If we can naturally lower blood sugar levels, that’s a big plus.

While there is no question whether or not physical activity is helpful in controlling diabetes, there has been some back and forth over the years as to which type of exercise works best – aerobic or anaerobic activity.

If you’re not exactly sure what the differences are, you’re not alone. This post is sure to shed some light on the subject and, hopefully, give you some new insight into what a good diabetes fitness routine should look like.


Exercise is an important part of controlling diabetes. So is maintaining your doctor-prescribed diabetes care plan. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to making that easier and more affordable with an online selection of diabetes products from leading manufacturers such as DexCom, One Touch, Accu-Chek, FreeStyle, OmniPod, Easy Comfort and BD Ultra Fine at prices that are up to 65% less than those you’ll find at pharmacies and other suppliers. Save on glucose meters, test strips and lancets, insulin syringes, pen needles, infusion sets and more at


Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Activity

There are three primary differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercise as they relate to diabetes health and blood glucose management. They are:

1) The amount of oxygen required to perform the activity

2) The physical intensity and length of the activity

3) Where the body draws the fuel to power the activity


Aerobic Exercise

This is probably the most popular exercise for most of us with diabetes. The name literally means “requiring oxygen” and this refers to activities that can be performed for an extended period of time with the body maintaining heart and breath rates at slightly elevated but steady levels. Walking, cycling, even dancing are all forms of aerobic activity. With aerobic activity, the body draws energy by burning fat and glucose directly from the blood, which naturally can lower your overall blood sugar level. Chances are, when you were first diagnosed with diabetes, particularly Type 2 diabetes, your doctor recommended easing into an activity program with some form of moderate aerobic activity.


Anaerobic Exercise

Now we’re going to kick things into a higher gear. Anaerobic activity does not require oxygen to generate energy. In general, here we’re focusing on far more intense, short-term activities that cannot be sustained for long periods of time. Great example of anaerobic exercises including resistance or weight training and the new fitness craze called HIIT - high intensity interval training - which alternates rapid bursts of vigorous activity with periods of rest or less strenuous activity. During anaerobic activity the heart rate becomes too elevated for the body to successfully process blood sugar as fuel. Instead, it burns what’s called glycogen, a form of glucose that is stored in your muscles.


Aerobic exercise, because it uses blood sugar as fuel, will almost always lower blood glucose levels. How dramatically depends entirely on the individual – we’re all different. However, after aerobic exercise you are highly likely be more sensitive to insulin. In fact, if you’re currently administering insulin using syringes or pen needles you may need to adjust your regimen accordingly. Lowering blood sugar is a good thing and that’s why aerobic exercise is so important.

What about anaerobic activity? Here’s the crazy thing. This form of intense exercise can actually increase blood sugar levels for an hour or so after the activity. So why do it at all? Because this elevation is temporary and nothing to worry about. Anaerobic activity will ultimately lead to increased insulin sensitivity, which can reduce your insulin requirement. Additionally, your body will want to rebuild the glycogen it took from the muscles for fuel, which means more of any post-activity meal you eat will be used by the body, which can further reduce the need for insulin. As one more bonus, anaerobic activity builds muscle, decreases fat mass and improves strength - all healthy things for those of us living with diabetes who are trying to maintain proper weight and a fit body.

So, how will aerobic and anaerobic exercise impact your individual blood sugar control and diabetes care plan? It’s entirely a guessing game. Or, rather, it’s a testing game. We can’t emphasize it enough. Get out your glucose meter and test strips and measure blood sugar before and after you exercise. Before to make sure you’re in the safe range to begin exercising, and after to identify any clear patterns between exercise and reductions blood glucose levels. It will probably take some trial and error, but eventually you’ll be able to see how much both aerobic and anaerobic activity lower your blood glucose level. Once you know the numbers, you’ll know what to expect when you’re active and you just might be able to better manage your diabetes using less insulin.


You guessed it. Optimal diabetes health requires both aerobic and anaerobic activity.

According to leading diabetes care and research organizations, including the American Diabetes Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best activity regimen for lowering blood sugar and managing diabetes is one that combines aerobic and anaerobic activity.

In fact, here are the CDC’s recommendations:

  1. Perform moderate aerobic exercise for 150 minutes per week. That may seem like a big number at first glance, but that’s only 30 minutes a day for five days a week. You can do that.
  1. Perform at least two days of resistance (anaerobic) training to work major muscle groups, including legs, shoulders, back, arms, and abdomen.

Of course, the most important thing to remember when it comes to diabetes and exercise is that everybody is different, and Rome wasn’t built in a day. We all start at different fitness levels. Additionally, there are big differences between what you can expect from exercise depending on whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

That’s why the all-important first step is to sit down with your diabetes physician and care team to develop an activity regimen that works for you. Going too hard and too fast can be dangerous. Listen to your diabetes team and eventually you’ll work your way into a fitness routine that brings you the best of both worlds - aerobic and anaerobic activity.

If you found this post helpful, we hope you’ll check out our other posts about living with diabetes. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to keeping you informed with diabetes care and treatment news and providing you with tips to make your diabetes health and lifestyle choices a little easier.


We’re also proud to offer savings of up to 65% on diabetic supplies, including glucose meters and test strips, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) systems, insulin syringes and pen needles from leading manufacturers, including FreeStyle, Clever Choice, Bayer, Accu-Chek, OneTouch, and TRUEMetrix. We invite you to shop and save on our entire selection at


Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including glucose meters and test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit