Diabetes and the Importance of Exercise

29 million people in the US have diabetes, and have to adjust their lifestyle to be healthy and happy. There is no shortage of medication to help control insulin levels, whether your body does not produce any insulin, produces too little insulin or is “insulin resistant”. However, one cannot rely on medication alone. There are several other lifestyle changes that need to be made to properly deal with diabetes, the most important being dietary choices to help control insulin and blood sugar levels. Perhaps second, but often overlooked beneficial change is a focus on the importance of exercise. Exercise is a vital component of health every person’s life, whether diagnosed with diabetes or not. However, exercise has even greater benefits for diabetics who have to fight even harder for their health.

Exercise has a multitude of benefits, but the biggest one is that it directly helps to you control your blood glucose (blood sugar) level. When you are exercising, your muscles can use glucose without insulin. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you are insulin resistant or your body doesn’t produce enough insulin. When you exercise, your muscles are able to get the glucose that they need, which lowers your blood glucose level. If you are insulin resistant, exercise makes your insulin more effective and your cells can in turn use the glucose more effectively. Exercise can also help avoid long-term complications, such as heart attacks. People with diabetes are susceptible to developing blocked arteries, which in turn can lead to a heart attack. Exercise keeps your heart strong and healthy, as well as maintains good cholesterol.

After considering all of the obvious benefits of exercise, and deciding to lead a healthier lifestyle you should consult your doctor who can clear you for an exercise routine. Next, you will want to set goals and make them reasonable goals. You will want to start slow and focus on building up your strength and stamina via exercise intensity. Drink water to stay hydrated, keep a snack in your gym bag in case of low blood sugar and be diligent about checking your glucose meter before and after exercise to make sure that you are in a safe range. Now you’re ready to hit the gym!

Having a good balance of aerobic, strength training and flexibility exercises is key. You should aim to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days. Some examples of traditional aerobic exercises are walking, jogging/running, tennis, basketball, swimming and biking. However, you can also get exercise by taking a walk at lunch, walking your dog or taking the stairs; get creative! When you feel comfortable, you can start to add strength training into your workout regimen. You should aim for 20-30 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. Strength training help to build lean, efficient muscle mass, which is key to controlling glucose levels. Strength training includes weight lifting, as well as body strength exercises. Flexibility training will improve how well your muscles and joints work. Make stretching before and after exercise a priority, as it will reduce muscle soreness and help to relax your muscles.

Like any other person starting an exercise routine, you may struggle to maintain the enthusiasm you start the program with. However, by making exercise a priority and finding ways to keep exercise fun and exciting, you will be able to push through those moments of weakness. If you just can’t motivate yourself to go to the gym solo, find a friend to be your “workout buddy”, or sign up for group classes. Above all, keep in mind that this new commitment will make your body more efficient at using its insulin and glucose.

Additionally, there are all of the traditional benefits of exercise:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better control of weight
  • Increased level of good cholesterol
  • Leaner, stronger muscles
  • Stronger bones
  • More energy
  • Improved mood
  • Better sleep
  • Stress management
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