Exercise & Diabetes: How Exercise Can Help Lower Blood Sugar Levels
- Physical activity and balanced nutrition are essential in managing blood sugar levels and reducing diabetes-related complications.
- Exercise helps maintain healthy body weight, increases muscle mass, and reduces visceral fat.
- Consult your physician before starting a new workout routine, and monitor your blood glucose levels before and after exercise.
Managing type 2 diabetes may not be as hard as you think if you watch what you eat. Apart from monitoring your diet, physical activity or exercise is another crucial aspect in achieving your goal of maintaining normal blood sugar levels.
According to a review published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, if a person with type 2 diabetes exercises regularly, their dependence on medicines and insulin can be reduced.
Another study claims that regular exercise may help reverse prediabetes, a condition in which your blood sugar levels are above normal but not high enough to be called diabetes.
Let us try to understand the connection between exercise and blood sugar levels and how being more active is one of the ways to reduce the risk of diabetes.
What is the insulin and exercise connection
Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. It is crucial to enhance the insulin sensitivity of cells to lower blood glucose levels. Does exercise lower blood sugar immediately?
Let us find out how exercise regulates insulin function and blood sugar levels:
- Uses up extra glucose: There is an immediate lowering of blood sugar levels shortly after exercise. As the muscles work during exercise, they trigger the uptake of blood glucose from the circulation to maintain the energy requirements. This is why experts recommend individuals with high blood sugar levels walk after every meal.
- Increases muscle mass: Glucose is fuel for our skeletal muscles and helps them function effectively. When we exercise, we tend to build muscle mass. The more the muscle mass, the greater the utilization of the blood glucose and hence, the better the diabetes management.
- Decreases visceral fat: Visceral fat reduces insulin sensitivity. This means excess visceral fat (fat found around the abdominal area at the center of the body) reduces the action of insulin, thereby increasing blood sugar levels. With the help of resistance training exercises, you can burn down your visceral fat and control blood sugar levels.
- Enhances weight loss: Maintaining your weight within the normal range is essential in diabetes management. Though nutrition has a significant role in weight loss, exercise must appreciate the more remarkable outcomes. Exercise and being more active throughout the day helps burn extra calories and maintain normal metabolism.
Research suggests that weight loss of 5% to 10% of one's body weight can bring a striking difference in the levels of glycated hemoglobin or HbA1C, the test that shows the average blood sugar value over two to three months.6. Hence, losing weight can be highly beneficial in diabetes management.
Benefits of exercise for diabetics
Diabetes can have several complications in the long run as uncontrolled blood sugar levels can affect vital organs like the heart, eyes, kidneys, and nerves spread throughout the body.
Exercise has a significant role in lowering the risk of the development of diabetes-related complications.
Additionally, physical exercise releases the 'feel good hormones' that make you happier and help you sleep better.
Here are some ways by which exercise can decrease the chance of complications caused by long-term diabetes:
1. Improves blood circulation
- Regular physical activity improves blood circulation and lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- An improved blood circulation means more oxygen and nutrients can reach different parts of the body, reducing the risk of diabetes-associated neuropathy and heart problems.
2. Reduces inflammation
- A study suggests that the primary cause of the progression of type 2 diabetes and its related complications is inflammation spread throughout the body.
- This prolonged inflammation results in conditions like atherosclerosis, a decline in cognition, and deterioration of bone health.
- Routine exercise can reduce chronic inflammation and thereby decrease the chances of its detrimental effects.
3. Maintains cholesterol levels
- Studies have reported that low- and moderate-intensity physical training can help lower LDL (low-density lipoproteins), also called 'bad cholesterol.
- Moreover, exercise helps increase the levels of 'good cholesterol' or HDL (high-density lipoproteins).
- In people with diabetes, cholesterol levels should be maintained within the normal range to avoid complications like heart disease or stroke.
4. Controls blood pressure
- Besides bringing the body to its healthy weight, exercise can be extremely helpful in controlling blood pressure.
- High blood pressure puts you at risk of stroke or heart disease.
- Mild to moderate physical activity can reduce high blood pressure and prevent life-threatening cardiovascular events.
5. Improves nerve health
- A diabetic foot ulcer is a wound that occurs at the bottom of the foot and is extremely difficult to heal. This is one of the most common diabetes-related complications.
- The primary cause of diabetic foot ulcers is neuropathy, which means the nerves fail to function properly. Due to the lack of sensation, individuals do not realize that they have developed an ulcer.
- Other symptoms of diabetic neuropathy range from weakness, numbness, tingling sensation, and pain in the affected areas. Exercise plays a significant role in reducing diabetes-related neuropathy and pain.
- Both nerve function and health have shown improvements through exercise. In a way, exercise ensures safety from infection or injury and enhances organ function.
6. Enhances joint health
- People with diabetes often complain about restricted joint movements like frozen shoulder and joint pain.
- The pain could be attributed to nerve damage, increased body weight, or impaired vascular health.
- Exercise can be a single effective solution to address the problems mentioned above. Its primary aim is to improve strength and enhance the range of movements to experience the benefits.
How to get started with exercise
When exercise can have countless benefits in enhancing your overall health, why should you shy away from starting one!
According to the guidelines provided by the American Diabetes Association, an adult with type 2 diabetes should perform a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise every week.
- In a week, you must choose at least three days for exercise.
- Ensure you do not go without exercise for more than two days consecutively.
- If a person is more comfortable with high-intensity exercise, the recommended duration can be reduced to 75 minutes weekly.
Incorporating all the recommendations into your daily schedule may be a daunting task initially, and you may find it hard to understand where to start.
Let us help you prepare your exercise routine:
1. Talk to your healthcare team
- Not every workout routine is safe or suitable for you. Getting approval from your healthcare team before you commence your exercise routine is essential.
- For someone with uncontrolled diabetes, exercises at home would be a safer option than an outdoor routine.
- Your doctor is the best person to suggest the appropriate exercise after thoroughly assessing your health and the coexisting diseases besides diabetes.
2. Find an activity that you like
- Exercising is not a one-day affair. You need to perform it daily. Hence, choose an exercise form that you like so that you can have fun while you exercise. For instance, if you like dancing more than walking on a treadmill, join fitness programs like Zumba, where you get a mix of both exercise and dance.
- Once you are comfortable with one level, you can increase the difficulty levels to enhance your skills and proficiency.
3. Baby steps are the best for beginners
- You can always take it slow as a beginner, as 150 minutes of exercise may sound too big a goal.
- Start with 60 minutes per week and set your goal at 150 minutes/week.
- A gradual increase in exercise duration will help you cope with the post-exercise aches and weakness.
4. Engage in active couple activities
- Finding a partner can take your exercise routine to the next level.
- When you exercise as a couple, there is always someone to motivate you to push your limits.
- Moreover, exercising with your partner is always more fun than doing it solo.
5. Never underestimate the power of NEAT:
- Yes. NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, i.e., the total number of calories consumed in regular physical activities outside a structured workout.
- This could be as simple as taking stairs instead of elevators, walking while speaking on the phone, or cleaning the house. Engaging in your day-to-day chores can also contribute to a substantial calorie burn.
6. Focus on large muscle groups and maximize benefits:
- It is a good idea to focus on exercising a large group of muscles.
- Hence, incorporating exercises like squats or lunges can have tremendous benefits in blood sugar management and reducing the complications related to diabetes.
7. Stay hydrated:
- While working out, drink plenty of fluids, so you do not get dehydrated and exhausted.
8. Monitor your blood glucose levels:
- Check your blood glucose levels before you begin any physical activity. If you have a blood sugar level lower than 100 mg/dl, have a small snack like two tablespoons of raisins so that you may not end up in hypoglycemia (a condition of low blood glucose levels when you can feel light-headed, sweaty, and shaky).
- Similarly, exercising with blood sugar levels higher than 240 mg/dl is unsafe as it may lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (another serious diabetic complication).
9. Always wear the right gear:
- If you want to go walking or jogging, ensure you have the proper footwear and sportswear.
- Sports shoes ensure your feet stay protected and comfortable during physical activity.
- Never hesitate to spend a few extra bucks on the appropriate footwear or clothing. Consider it a wise investment in your health.
10. Check your feet for sores:
- Once you are back from exercise, clean your feet and check for sores or injuries.
- Schedule a consultation with your podiatrist at least once or twice a year.
Exercise benefits everyone, especially those with diabetes. As diabetes affects almost every organ of the body, individuals with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing diabetes-associated complications.
One of the best ways to reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications is to keep the blood sugar levels within the normal range. Exercise or physical activity combined with healthy eating will help you manage blood glucose. It enhances insulin sensitivity, reduces visceral fat, helps burn extra glucose, and builds muscle mass.
Routine physical activity has countless benefits like improved bone, vascular, and nerve health so that the risk of complications related to diabetes is considerably lowered. Consult your physician before you choose a workout plan for you.
Even if you cannot stick to a dedicated workout routine, consider burning more calories in your daily activities like walking to your workplace or cleaning your house. So, if you have diabetes, staying active throughout the day should be your priority.
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