How exercise can help with diabetes

October 9, 2015

While proper medical attention is required for treating diabetes, incorporating a healthy lifestyle can be of great benefit. Here's how exercise and weight loss can complement your diabetes treatment plan.

How exercise can help with diabetes

Exercise regularly to reduce your need for medication

  • Particularly for people who are recently diagnosed with diabetes. The reason is that exercise can actually lower your cells' resistance to insulin, a core problem in type 2 diabetes
  • The better your cells respond to insulin, the less medication you may need to take. If you're being diligent about following a new fitness plan and your blood-sugar readings are showing a difference, it's worth talking to your doctor about whether you can reduce the number or quantity of medications you take
  • If you use insulin, ask your doctor whether and when you can substitute exercise for an injection or at least reduce the amount of insulin that you take before a workout
  • Ask how to coordinate your physical activity with your food intake based on your blood-sugar and insulin levels. Otherwise, you may run the risk of dangerously low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) or dangerously high blood glucose (hyperglycemia)
  • Routinely checking your blood sugar before, during and after physical activity will help you gauge, for example, when you'll need a snack break or how long to wait to exercise after taking insulin

Get your exercise where you can

  • Your workout plan doesn't have to be any more involved than making sure you pump up your heart rate and breathe a little harder several times a week, preferably for 20 minutes or more at a time
  • Classic aerobic exercises like walking, swimming and biking are ideal, but ordinary chores, such as washing your car, mowing the lawn (no, not on the riding mower) and cleaning your house can do the trick, too
  • Our views on fitness have changed a lot in the past 20 years. Whereas once, fitness was all about a small number of challenging formal workouts per week, research has made clear that active daily living is the healthier and more sustainable way. Yes, lifting a light dumbbell while watching television is great for you. But the new face of fitness is fun and friendly and rarely even requires a change of clothing!

Understand the body weight-diabetes connection

  • Think of excess body fat as a contaminant in your fuel system. Normally, glucose has no problem making its way into your cells from the bloodstream. But body fat mucks up the process. It does its devilish work by releasing substances called free fatty acids into the blood
  • Free fatty acids have at least two undesirable effects. One is to cause cells to ignore the glucose and leave it floating in your blood, which is what diabetes is all about. The other is to cause your pancreas to produce less insulin. Taken together, these effects make free fatty acids bad news — and not just because they play a major role in diabetes
  • The havoc they wreak on glucose absorption and insulin production also contributes to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides (another type of blood fat) and other problems that lead to heart disease
  • Losing weight is like cleansing your fuel system so you use energy more efficiently. The less body fat you have, the fewer fatty acids you will have circulating in your bloodstream and the lower your blood sugar will be

Maintaining a healthy body weight and an active lifestyle are key factors in controlling your diabetes. Follow these suggestions as part of your treatment plan to help you feel your best.

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