“The only exercise some people get is jumping to conclusions.”
If jumping to conclusions is your only form of physical activity, you are overlooking one of the top tools available to improve your diabetes control! Healthful eating, medicine if you need it, and blood glucose self-monitoring are important basics of diabetes management, but only physical activity provides a host of benefits for your quality of life, blood glucose control, and overall health. In addition to lower blood glucose readings and decreased body fat, regular exercisers report increased self-esteem, reduced stress, and enhanced clarity of thought. Routine physical activity also improves your self-efficacy, which is confidence in your ability to change and control your behavior.
Despite these and other potential benefits, more than 60% of American adults are not regularly active, and 25% of the adult population are not active at all. Take a moment to learn more about the magic of movement, then get ready, get set, and go! Make a commitment to improving your health by including more physical activity in your life.
The science behind the magic
Simply put, exercise lowers blood glucose. To perform physical activity, the muscles burn glucose for energy and absorb glucose from the blood during and after exercise to replenish their stores. However, most people with Type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance, in which muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond normally to insulin. As a result, it takes more insulin than normal to admit glucose into the cells. Exercise, in addition to simply burning glucose, improves the body’s ability to use insulin. This improvement in insulin sensitivity may allow some people with Type 2 diabetes to reduce or even discontinue blood-glucose-lowering medicines with increased physical activity. In addition, for those with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, resistance exercise builds muscle mass, which may continue to burn glucose even when a person is not actively exercising.
Regular physical activity increases a person’s aerobic fitness level, reducing his resting heart rate as the heart pumps more efficiently. Lower blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, as well as increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, are additional benefits that are of special concern to those with diabetes because of their increased risk of heart disease. And if you are trying to lose a few pounds, consider this: Physical activity not only helps people lose weight, but it has been proven to help them keep weight off for months and even years.
It’s really not magic at all. Science supports the recommendation that regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to improve your diabetes control and sense of well-being.
If you’re making a commitment to physical activity, start your efforts off on the right foot by meeting with your doctor to discuss any limitations or restrictions you may have. Formal exercise testing prior to beginning a training program can be helpful in many ways, including identifying undiagnosed heart disease and determining your pulse and blood pressure responses to various levels of exercise intensity. In addition, screening for diabetes complications that may be worsened by certain exercises is essential. This evaluation is also valuable in designing an individualized exercise prescription and opening up a discussion about important factors to consider before beginning your program. If you are planning to begin a moderate- to high-intensity physical activity program, you may be a candidate for a graded exercise test (“stress test”) if you meet any of the criteria established by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). (For the ADA’s criteria, see “Risky Business?”)