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Exercise and Diabetes

exerciseWhy should you exercise?

The therapeutic use of physical activity for diabetes mellitus was prescribed as early as 600 B.C. by the Indian physician Sushruta, and was widely recommended by physicians of the 18th century. Today physical activity along with dietary management is recognized as one of the established principles of diabetes treatment.

We all know physical activity is important for everyone’s health, and it can be especially important if you have diabetes. In some ways, exercise has greater benefits for a person with diabetes since it has an important effect on blood sugar control.

How does physical activity work on diabetes?

  • Physical activity can lower the blood glucose and improve the body’s ability to use glucose. With regular exercise, the amount of insulin needed decreases.
  • Physical activity can also help reverse the resistance to insulin that occurs as a result of being overweight. There is an increase in the number of insulin receptors improving the body’s ability to utilize insulin.
  • Physical activity improves risk factors for heart disease and decreases the risk of heart problems, which is a major health concern for people with diabetes. This includes the reduction of low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), or bad cholesterol, which forms plaque that obstructs blood vessels. Exercise promotes the good cholesterol, high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), which is protective against heart disease. Blood pressure is also lowered through exercise and exercise has been shown to improve mild to moderate high blood pressure.
  • Physical activity, when combined with a meal plan, has the ability to control type 2 diabetes without the need for other medications.
  • Regular physical activity provides an effective way for people with diabetes to manage their blood sugars.

What can physical activity do?

In addition to the benefits specific to diabetes, a person with diabetes will experience the same benefits and enjoyment everyone else gains from physical activity.

  • Improved Physical Fitness. Physical activity increases the efficiency of the heart, lungs and circulatory system both at rest and with physical activity. The body’s improved ability to transport oxygen provides increased stamina and endurance. You have more energy for greater productivity at work and reserve energy to do the leisurely things you enjoy each day.
  • Weight Control. Physical activity can help you to lose weight or maintain your weight. Physical activity burns excess calories which are stored as fat cells. This means that at rest you burn more calories than a sedentary person, increasing your weight loss. An exercise program during weight loss is essential to ensure that the weight lost is fat and not lean body tissue or water weight, which often occurs from dieting alone. As you become leaner, you will look better and feel better.
  • Psychological Benefits. Physical activity is a means of dealing with life’s everyday stresses. It also aids in relieving depression and building self confidence. Through physical activity, you have more energy, you are more relaxed, and you feel less fatigued.

Before beginning an exercise program, it is important to obtain medical clearance. It is absolutely imperative if you are 35 years of age and/or have had diabetes for 10 years or more.

Your blood glucose must be adequately controlled before beginning a new program in order to produce the desired blood glucose results.

So why get physical activity?

Physical activity is something that you can do yourself to help your diabetes. A regular exercise program can bring dramatic results. If you exercise properly, you can lower blood glucose levels and improve your blood glucose control. You can also maximize weight loss and decrease your risk of heart disease. An exercise program should be individually tailored and designed to compliment your lifestyle and to achieve your desired goals. This requires the proper adjustment of your insulin and extra food (snack) consumption. Many factors — such as the time of day you exercise or the type and duration of your exercise — will determine whether adjustments should be made in your insulin dose or your meal plan. Discuss your exercise program with your exercise physiologist to determine the type of adjustments you need to make.

Getting started

Physical activity is beneficial for most people. But it is especially important for people with diabetes. There are educators available to help you and determine the best exercise plan for you (in cooperation with your doctor). It does not matter how old you are or how long you have had diabetes — it can still help you better control your blood glucose and overall health. What is important is that you pick a physical activity that you enjoy.