It is no secret that exercise and physical activity can help keep the body in a healthier state. Regular physical activity can help improve the circulation of your blood, maintain muscle tone, and keep your joints flexible. Your heart, muscles, and bones benefit by being stronger and less likely to become diseased or injured. Studies show that regular physical activity can help you sleep better, improve your overall energy level, and provide some stress relief by boosting your feel-good endorphins and diverting attention away from daily worries.
When you have diabetes, regular physical activity can also help with blood glucose control, both by lowering your blood glucose level directly, and by lowering your level of insulin resistance (which contributes to high blood glucose levels). It also helps to lower your blood pressure, and it keeps your lipids (blood fat levels) in check by increasing your “good” (HDL) cholesterol and lowering your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides. All of these benefits together help to prevent the long-term complications of diabetes such as retinopathy (eye disease), nephropathy (kidney disease), and neuropathy (nerve damage).
In people who are at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes — a group that includes all blood relatives of people who have Type 2 diabetes — research has shown that performing regular physical activity can help prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
With all of these benefits for people with and without diabetes, doesn’t it make sense to make engaging in physical activity a family affair? As you consider how to get more active yourself, also think about how to include your family members in your efforts. What might help to motivate your spouse, children, or other family members to be more active? And what sort of preparation or equipment might they need to participate in the activities you enjoy?
Experts agree that those who exercise and are physically active have an easier time of staying at a healthy body weight. While being active admittedly burns more calories than being sedentary, the real benefit in regular exercise is its role in maintaining weight loss achieved through dietary and other lifestyle measures.
For people who have diabetes and are overweight, a weight loss of 5% of body weight is associated with improvement in blood glucose control and blood pressure and lipid levels. For people with prediabetes, a 7% weight loss combined with regular physical activity has been shown to significantly reduce the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. (Prediabetes is diagnosed when blood tests show a blood glucose level that is higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.)
Physical activity and exercise are also associated with a decrease in visceral fat (fat that surrounds the inner organs in the abdominal region). This is important, because visceral fat is associated with insulin resistance and a higher risk of heart disease. Losing visceral fat is considered “heart healthy” whether or not you have diabetes.
Types of exercise
There are four types of activity that are commonly included in a complete exercise routine.
Physical activity. This is movement that is not formal exercise. Examples include walking, climbing stairs, and doing housework or yard work. In general, finding ways to move more and to sit less is good for your health.
Aerobic exercise. This type of exercise uses your large muscle groups and causes you to breathe faster and more deeply. Examples include brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, and swimming. The effect of aerobic exercise is to increase the amount of oxygen in your blood and to increase blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs.