November is American Diabetes Month. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability. If not controlled diabetes can cause blindness, nerve damage, kidney disease and numerous other health problems.
Current statistics show that nearly 30 million people in the US have diabetes, which is almost 10% of the population. There are another 86 million at a high risk for developing diabetes. The number is on the rise in both adults and children primarily due to our sedentary lifestyles and the increase in obesity.
Approximately 95% of diabetics are Type 2. This is a condition where the body does not produce sufficient insulin and the body’s cells become resistant to the effects of insulin. This causes a build-up of glucose in the blood, which damages the body’s organ systems. Type 2 diabetes is commonly referred to as adult-onset diabetes.
Exercise is a key to the prevention, control, and treatment of diabetes. It helps you keep a healthy weight and allows your blood sugar to stay in the target range.
Exercise helps control your blood sugar. With Type 2 diabetes there is too much glucose in the blood. This is either because the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to process it or because the body doesn’t use it properly. Exercise helps the hormone insulin absorb glucose into all your body’s cells, where it is needed, instead of to the blood. Muscles can use glucose without insulin when you’re exercising. So if you are insulin resistant or don’t get enough insulin, exercise allows the muscles to get the glucose they need.
Diabetics are at greater risk for other chronic medical conditions. In addition to managing blood sugar, some other ways that exercise can help cut the risk of these conditions are by:
• Lowering blood pressure and bad (LDL) cholesterol
• Increasing good (HDL) cholesterol
• Improving blood circulation
• Lowering risk of heart disease and stroke
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Diabetes Association have jointly issued exercise guidelines recommending 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week. A balance of three modes of exercise should be included in your program: cardiovascular / aerobic, resistance or strength and flexibility.
Aerobic exercise uses large muscles, makes your heart beat faster and makes breathing harder. This type of exercise can be split up throughout your day. Aerobic exercise includes walking or jogging, tennis, biking and swimming.
Resistance or strength training builds muscle and keeps your bones healthy. Increasing your muscle allows you to burn more calories aiding in weight management. Strength training can be done with your own bodyweight, with weights, bands or machines. The goal is to follow a low intensity, lower resistance program 2 to 3 times per week. Strength training has been shown to be even more important than aerobic training as it aids in controlling blood glucose because your muscles use more glucose.
Flexibility training helps improve how well your muscles and joints work and assist in general movement and balance. Stretching helps prevent exercise related injuries, improves flexibility and range of motion and increases blood flow to the muscles. These are all common problems for diabetics.
Exercise can help diabetics stay healthy but there are a few things that must be monitored. It is critical to monitor your glucose before and after exercise to understand how you respond to certain types of exercise. The affect physical activity has on blood glucose varies.
Diabetics may need to avoid some kinds of physical activity to avoid complications. Exercise involving heavy weights may be contraindicated for people with blood pressure, blood vessel, or eye problems. Also, diabetes-related nerve damage can make it difficult to tell if you’ve injured your feet during exercise, which can lead to more serious problems.
As always it is imperative to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program
A diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes does change your life. Add exercise as a lifestyle change to prevent and manage this disease.