Diet and exercise for type 2 diabetes

A healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise are powerful tools for managing type 2 diabetes. They can help you keep your blood glucose levels under control, and improve your overall health and wellbeing.

Whether you're looking to make a complete lifestyle change, or just for some meal or activity ideas, you'll find useful information and resources in this section.

Why are diet and exercise so important?

  • Better glucose control

    A healthy diet and regular exercise can help you to control type 2 diabetes by reducing your intake of foods that cause blood glucose levels to rise too much, and by using excess glucose for energy.
  • Healthy body weight

    If you are overweight or have obesity, good nutrition and increased physical activity can help you to lose weight, which can in turn improve your glucose control and overall health.
  • Emotional wellbeing

    Taking good care of your body can bring additional benefits, including increased energy levels, more self-confidence, and relief from stress.

Making healthier food choices

Making healthy food choices can be a challenge, especially when it seems easier just to choose something convenient, or to have what everyone else is having. But eating well means learning to make healthy choices for you – regardless of where you are or who you are with.

Remember, a nutritious menu doesn't have to cost more or take longer to prepare. Your diabetes care team can help you create a healthy meal plan that fits with your daily routines.

Important tips for type 2 diets:
  • Eat a variety of foods in the right amounts
  • Eat regularly
  • Balance the amount you eat against your physical activity and your medication (if you take any)

Simple swaps and diet changes

Small changes can make a big difference to your diet. You can change the way food is prepared, for instance grilling instead of frying in oil, or substitute low-sugar or low-fat alternatives. Here are six simple food swaps that can make your meal instantly healthier.



Why carbohydrates matter

It's important to read the labels on foods so you know their carbohydrate content. Glucose is a carbohydrate, so the amount and type of carbohydrate you consume may affect your blood glucose levels – as well the dosage of insulin you need if you are on insulin therapy.


Simple carbohydrates

  • Include fruit, honey, white bread and dairy
  • Give food a sweet taste
  • Raise blood glucose levels quickly

Complex carbohydrates

  • Include potatoes, brown bread, pulses and oats
  • Contain more fibre and take longer for the body to absorb
  • Raise blood glucose levels more slowly


Keeping track of your carbohydrate intake – also known as 'counting carbs' – can be complicated, but there are lots of tools, apps, and online references available to help you get started.


Try this free carb counting booklet

Can I drink alcohol with type 2 diabetes?

People with type 2 diabetes can still enjoy alcohol, but be aware that it can have unpredictable effects on your blood glucose levels. The sugar in alcoholic drinks causes a sharp rise in blood glucose, but when combined with diabetes medications alcohol can also cause hypoglycaemia, or low blood glucose. A sensible rule is to always drink in moderation and never on an empty stomach.

Can I drink alcohol with type 1 diabetes?

Exercise and type 2 diabetes

Regular exercise can help you control your blood glucose levels, lose weight and improve your physical and mental health. Even a small increase in physical activity can make a difference. If you have not been active for a while, start with just 5–10 minutes exercise a day, and then add a few minutes each week until you reach your goal.

It's also important that you find an activity that suits you. This will make you more likely to stick with it and enjoy the benefits of an active lifestyle. Here are some ideas for low impact-activities to help you get started. ?


  • Stretching and balancing activities like pilates increase flexibility and strength, and can prepare you for other activities like swimming
  • Tai chi builds upper body strength, reduces stiffness, and combines mindfulness to help you stay focused
  • Dancing is an aerobic activity: it raises your heart rate, burns calories and fat, and can support cardiovascular health
  • Exercising with weights can build strength and help with weight loss – if you are not experienced, do not try this without supervision
  • Walking or hiking are enjoyable ways to spend time with friends or family – just make sure you wear suitable shoes
  • Swimming is easy on the joints and works all the main muscle groups


It is extremely important that you check with your healthcare professional before you start any exercise more strenuous than a walking programme.


Use your experiences to inspire others

At Novo Nordisk, we consider people living with serious chronic diseases to be experts in their own right. That's why we invite them to become members of our Disease Experience Expert Panels (DEEPs). DEEP members are able to provide disease-specific insights and advice based on real-world experiences. This input guides us as we work to develop better treatments and meaningful support for people living with chronic diseases worldwide.

Share insights about your active life with type 2 diabetes

Insulin pumps – an alternative to injections

Insulin pumps are small portable devices that provide your body with mealtime insulin throughout the day. Pumps remove the need for multiple injections, and can offer more flexible insulin dosing when used during sports or exercise.



Learn more about insulin pumps

Living with type 2 diabetes

Having type 2 diabetes doesn't mean you should expect less out of life. But you will need to learn how to manage your blood glucose for different situations, and for different activities, so you can stay healthy and active. We have lots of information and resources to help you get started.


Get tips for living well with type 2 diabetes

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