Are you including exercise as part of your diabetes control?
If you’ve been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, you’ve been told that the three cornerstones of treating your disease are proper diet, medications, and physical activity. Of these three, the results of physical activity produce the greatest and fastest rewards, quickly lowering blood glucose and contributing to a feeling of well-being and empowerment. Here’s why:
Muscles require energy to flex, and your body supplies it in the form of glucose and fatty acids. As you exercise, your blood glucose levels decline, which signals your pancreas to reduce its output of insulin. In turn, this signals your liver to empty its glucose reserves into your blood supply. The liver then begins to convert amino acids, lactic acids and fats into new glucose.
Once your body exhausts these initial resources, it finally dips into fat reserves, mostly the fat cells stored around your hips and belly. This fat to glucose conversion continues as long as your muscles require energy.
What kind of exercise is best?
A word of caution here: If you’re obese or suffering from additional health complications, please consult with your physician before undertaking any exercise program.
The best form of exercise is the most strenuous, as the longer your muscles demand energy, the more blood glucose and fat you burn. And as any diabetic knows, it’s all about lowering blood glucose levels.
In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the effects of exercise on blood glucose levels were striking. Researchers at the University of Calgary and the University of Ottowa split 250 patients into 4 groups:
- The Aerobic exercise group exercised 45 minutes at the gym three times a week on a treadmill or stationary bike
- The Strength training group exercised 45 minutes at the gym three times a week on weight machines
- The Combined group exercised 90 minutes at the gym three times a week doing the combined exercise programs of groups 1 and 2
- The No exercise / control group performed no exercise and had no change in lifestyle
The study lasted 22 weeks and “We built up gradually”, says Dr. Ronald Sigal, lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine and cardiac sciences at the University of Calgary. “It [wasn’t] sprinting or maximal exercise like a marathon trainer would do, but for someone who’s middle-aged and older and very overweight, it [was] fairly strenuous.”
Over two to three months, each group had their hemoglobin A1C values tested, which measured blood-sugar control (lower is better). When compared to the control group who did no exercise, patients in the aerobic exercise group showed a reduction of .51%, and the weight-training group had a .38% reduction. The combined exercise group had even better improvements: a nearly 1% lower A1C reading than the control group.
“The benefits of a 1% drop aren’t small”, according to a Time Magazine article on the study. “Imagine an inexpensive pill that could decrease the hemoglobin A1C value by 1 percentage point… Diabetes experts would be quick to incorporate this pill into practice guidelines and performance measures for diabetes.”
Additionally, the exercise groups also showed modest weight loss and a reduction in belly fat, even though they were specifically following diets which were designed to maintain their weight.
How to get started on an exercise program to control your diabetes
If you’ve been sedentary for quite a while, you don’t have to be intimidated by the prospect of beginning an exercise program – health clubs and expensive workout gear aren’t a requirement. Activities can be as simple as taking a 30 minute walk, walking the dog, playing with kids (or grandkids), riding your bike outside, or working in the garden. Keeping your body active in any way strengthens muscles, burns fat, and lowers blood glucose levels. Start easy and build up to a 45 minute routine at least 3 times a week. But the important thing is to start today.
For more information on beginning an exercise program to control your Type 2 diabetes, check these links:
Diabetes.org – Ideas for types of exercise
Health magazine: 15 Exercise Tips for People With Type 2 Diabetes
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: What I Need To Know about Physical Activity and Diabetes