The role of exercise in the treatment of cardiovascular disease associated with type 2 diabetes mellitus

Sports Med. 2004;34(1):27-48. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200434010-00004.


The role of exercise training in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus has been studied extensively over the past two decades. Although the primary treatment aim for patients with type 2 diabetes is metabolic control, the morbidity and mortality associated with the disease is more a function of cardiovascular disease. As exercise is associated with favourable reductions in the risk for cardiovascular disease in other high-risk populations, here we explore the role of exercise in the treatment of cardiovascular maladaptations associated with type 2 diabetes. The cardiovascular adaptation to type 2 diabetes is characterised by hypertrophy, stiffening and loss of functional reserve. Clinically, the cardiovascular adaptations to the diabetic state are associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Functionally, these adaptations have been shown to contribute to a reduced exercise capacity, which may explain the reduced cardiovascular fitness observed in this population. Exercise training is associated with improved exercise capacity in various populations, including type 2 diabetes. Several structural and functional adaptations within the cardiovascular system following exercise training could explain these findings, such as reductions in ventricular and vascular structural hypertrophy and compliance coupled with increased functional reserve. Although these cardiovascular adaptations to aerobic exercise training have been well documented in older populations with similar decrements in cardiovascular fitness and function, they have yet to be examined in patients with type 2 diabetes. For this reason, we contend that exercise training may be an excellent therapeutic adjunct in the treatment of diabetic cardiovascular disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / therapy*
  • Diabetic Angiopathies / epidemiology
  • Diabetic Angiopathies / physiopathology
  • Diabetic Angiopathies / prevention & control*
  • Endothelium / physiology
  • Exercise
  • Exercise Therapy* / education
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Risk Factors
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left / etiology
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left / prevention & control