How Does Exercise Help Diabetes?
Exercise. We’ve talked about it in this blog. Your doctor has probably recommended it. You may even be doing it. Many people with diabetes and pre-diabetes know that exercise is key to managing their condition. In fact, exercise in addition to diet, monitoring blood sugar levels, and taking insulin and other medications, are key components of diabetes self-care and management.
But how exactly do walking, cycling, swimming, or other types of physical activity contribute to lower blood glucose and improve the health of people with diabetes or pre-diabetes? Keep on reading for some answers that may inspire you to get moving to help you manage your diabetes and improve your health.
Blood Sugar Basics
Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects your body’s ability to turn the food you eat into the energy you need to live. Most food gets broken down into sugar, or glucose, that enters your bloodstream. To prevent blood glucose levels from becoming too high, the pancreas releases insulin which allows glucose to leave the blood and enter into cells for energy.
When you have diabetes, one of two things interferes with that process. Either your pancreas may be unable to produce enough insulin to allow glucose to enter the cells for energy. Or the cells and skeletal tissues may be resistant to insulin (known as insulin resistance). When glucose levels in the blood remain high due to lack of insulin, complications such as heart disease, impaired vision, and kidney disease may occur.
There are four types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when the body stops making insulin. Much more common is type 2 diabetes, where the body does not do a good job of using insulin. Pre-diabetes is when a person’s hemoglobin A1C level is elevated, which is caused by high blood glucose levels. If pre-diabetes is not treated and the A1C level rises above 5.7%, type 2 diabetes can develop. A fourth type of diabetes is gestational diabetes, which affects pregnant women. Though gestational diabetes often disappears after the baby is born, it increases the chance for type 2 in the future.
If you feel like you know an awful lot of people with diabetes or pre-diabetes, there’s a reason. Over the past 20 years the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes has more than doubled. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the chief reasons for this increase in type 2 diabetes is the rise in obesity.
The Role of Exercise
So where does exercise come in? Research has found that because the cells in your muscles make better use of insulin during and after exercise, less glucose remains in your body after a workout. Also, when muscles contract during activity, cells use more glucose. The insulin-boosting effects of exercise last about 24 hours following a workout. Exercise can also result in weight loss and a reduction of adipose (fat) tissue which means that the body is less resistant to insulin and insulin is able to work more effectively to allow glucose to leave the blood and enter the cells for energy. That’s why regular exercise is so important.
The science behind the exercise/diabetes relationship is impressive. Harvard Medical School cites a number of studies, including one that found that people with diabetes who walked at least two hours a week were less likely to die of heart disease than those who did not walk. Those who exercised three-to-four hours a week saw even better results. Researchers also found that not exercising may increase some risks associated with type 2 diabetes, such as heart disease and eye and kidney complications.
Do you love to swim, garden, or dance? Maybe you prefer a traditional gym workout? No worries, any exercise is helpful for those with diabetes. But certain types of exercise offer additional benefits. Aerobic exercises (which strengthen your heart and lungs) like swimming, brisk walking, running, or cycling, improve A1C. Resistance, or strength training, helps keep muscles strong. And stretching and balance exercises such as tai chi keep older adults upright and flexible.
Harvard Medical School cites a study that found that people with diabetes who walked at least two hours a week were less likely to die of heart disease than those who did not walk.
Keep a Watchful Eye
If you take insulin or oral diabetes medicine, you can be at risk for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) unless you adjust your medicine or carbs when you exercise. The way to stay on top of this is to check your blood sugar before starting that hike or swim. If your glucose has dipped, take the steps you and your care team have identified, such as drinking some juice or non-diet soda, or taking glucose tablets.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), following the 15-15 rule can help regulate blood sugar while exercise. If glucose is between 55-69, consume 15-20 grams of carb, then wait 15 minutes and recheck. If it is still below 70, take another 15-gram serving. Make sure your blood sugar regulates before you resume exercising.
So Many Reasons to Move!
Apart from its glucose-busting benefits, regular exercise offers other impressive advantages. It helps you…
Maintain a healthy weight
Lose weight if needed
Lower blood pressure
The insulin-boosting effects of exercise last about 24 hours following a workout. That’s why regular exercise is so important.
Skin in the Game
Hopefully, we’ve helped you understand how exercise helps lower blood sugar. The next step, getting serious about physical activity, is up to you. A few steps that may motivate you to get moving:
Choose wisely. Find a type of exercise you like and will stick with. Squats and burpees not your thing? Try a brisk walk outside instead.
Start small. Be patient and build on your progress. You don’t have to run a marathon to make exercise worthwhile. Ten minutes a day on an exercise bike is a great start.
Set Goals. Speaking of that marathon, if that’s what you want to do, be sure to set a reasonable timeline as you work toward your goal.
Find a buddy. An exercise buddy keeps things fun and keeps you accountable.
Get it in writing. Make your exercise time as important as other “must-dos” on your calendar.
Finally, you’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program!
Also essential? Keeping the diabetes supplies you need on hand. Whether it’s traditional items like lancets, test strips, and a glucose meter, or a Continuous Glucose Monitor for no-stick, 24-7 results, Home Care Delivered is your one-stop diabetes headquarters. We even handle communication with your doctor and your insurance provider, Medicare, or Medicaid!
Call 804-885-4101 today. If it’s easier, just enter your phone number on the bottom left of the screen and we’ll be in touch.
Getting the blood sugar results you and your doctor want takes effort. Exercise gets you moving in the right direction!
Unless otherwise noted, the recommendations in this document were obtained from the sources indicated. Be advised that information contained herein is intended to serve as a useful reference for informational purposes only. HCD cannot be held responsible for the continued accuracy of or for any errors or omissions in the information. All trademarks and registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners.