Five Things Every Person With Diabetes Should Know About Exercise

Recent research has shown that it is better to be fat and fit than lean and sedentary from a metabolic standpoint.

A number of recent studies have shown that type 2 diabetes may actually be preventable with regular physical activity, even just brisk walking. For all individuals with diabetes, however, exercise enhances the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which usually results in better blood sugar control.

Here are five things every person with diabetes should know about exercise.

1. Exercise is the Best Medicine

Many chronic diseases besides type 2 diabetes are related to insulin sensitivity, including hypertension and heart disease. Regular exercise lowers your risk of premature death, heart disease, some cancers (colon, for example), anxiety and depression, osteoporosis and severe arthritic symptoms.

2. Frequent, Regular Exercise is Key to Good Blood-Sugar Control

The glucose-lowering effects of exercise are mainly due to a heightened sensitivity to insulin in exercised muscle, an effect that persists for only one to two days following the activity. Therefore, in order to maximize exercise’s positive effects on blood sugar control, you have to exercise regularly.

The recommendation for all individuals is a minimum of three to five days per week of aerobic exercise (i.e., walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, etc.) done for 20 to 60 minutes. With type 2 diabetes, daily or near-daily activities are recommended to optimize weight loss and blood sugar control.

With type 1, regular, predictable exercise makes blood sugars easier to manage. With practice and a blood sugar meter, you can manage your blood sugars with any exercise regimen, but regular exercise is still important for the health benefits.

3. All Exercise You Accumulate During the Day Counts

Until recently, participation in intense activities—done at greater than 60 percent of maximal aerobic capacity, like jogging—was thought necessary for optimal health and fitness. However, recent studies showed that almost any physical activity (including golfing, gardening, mowing the lawn, walking) done 30 to 45 minutes per day is beneficial to health. Furthermore, these low-intensity exercises are beneficial even if done in as short as 10-minute segments.

Your daily goal should be to remain as physically active as possible during the day to maximize caloric expenditure and blood sugar use. So, take the stairs instead of the elevator!

4. Resistance Training is as Important as Aerobic Exercise

More and more research is showing that resistance or weight training can increase insulin sensitivity as well as lower your risk for osteoporosis and loss of muscle mass with aging. The current recommendation is to include such training two to three days per week.

Your training should include all the major muscle groups of the body. Some examples of exercises are bicep curls, push-ups, abdominal crunches, bench press and calf raises. You should pick a weight or resistance that you can lift eight to 12 times and do a minimum of one set (preferably two to three sets) on each exercise.

Also include flexibility training of all major joints a minimum of two days per week to minimize the loss of flexibility caused by aging and accelerated by diabetes.

5. Almost Everyone Can Exercise Safely and Effectively

Diabetes bestows additional risks on exercisers, however, you can still exercise to your maximal potential as long as you respect your limitations.

For example, if you have lost some of the feeling in your feet due to peripheral neuropathy, you may need to switch to non-weight-bearing activities such as swimming or stationary cycling to minimize potential trauma to your feet common with walking and jogging.

If you have high blood sugars, drink plenty of fluids with exercise to prevent dehydration.

If you are having problems with your eyes due to diabetic eye disease, avoid jumping, jarring, or breath-holding activities.

Follow the exercise guidelines published by the American Diabetes Association for safe participation. Remember to include proper warm-up and cool-down periods (at least five minutes of a similar aerobic activity done at a lesser intensity before and after an activity) to ease the cardiovascular transition and minimize your risk for orthopedic injuries.

Although exercising takes more work than does just taking medications to control your diabetes, it is well worth the effort for many health-related reasons. Include moderate exercise training and frequent physical activity in your daily regimen for optimal health and fitness benefits!

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