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Healthy Aging With Diabetes

by Robert S. Dinsmoor

Counteracting the effects of aging—and diabetes

While there is no such thing as a fountain of youth, there are a number of steps you can take to counteract some of the deleterious effects of aging—and diabetes—so that you can remain vital well into your older years. Here are some of those steps:

Pay attention to your numbers. One important measure for ensuring health in later years is controlling blood glucose levels, since high blood glucose tends to accelerate the effects of aging and increases the risk of developing diabetes complications. If you’re especially prone to hypoglycemia, it becomes even more important to regularly monitor your blood glucose levels.

Controlling blood pressure and blood lipid levels (cholesterol and triglycerides) can help prevent atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries,” and the damage it wreaks throughout the body. Since obesity contributes to a number of afflictions throughout life, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis, maintaining a desirable body weight can help keep you healthy throughout life.

Stay physically active. Many of the effects of aging, including a slower metabolism and diminished aerobic capacity, are not due directly to age as much as decreased muscle mass. Various forms of exercise, however, can help maintain muscle mass and ward off a host of afflictions. Aerobic exercise, such as running, bicycling, swimming, and walking, is known to help lower blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. Further, over time it increases stamina, aids in weight loss, and helps decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Strength training has numerous benefits as well. Health experts have known for years that resistance or strength training can help reduce a person’s cardiovascular risk by lowering blood pressure, aiding in weight control, and improving cholesterol levels. But its benefits don’t end there: By building muscle mass, strength training may also stave off the decline in energy expenditure that led to Type 2 diabetes in the first place. It appears that both strength training and aerobic exercise may improve glucose metabolism and may help to significantly improve blood glucose control in people with established diabetes.

Also, bone density decreases with age, and one in four women in the United States eventually develops osteoporosis. Even more than aerobic exercise, strength training can increase bone density and help stave off osteoporosis.

Chronic progressive osteoarthritis is very common in older people, and rheumatologists often recommend strength training as one means of slowing the disease. Resistance training cannot reverse arthritis, but the stronger the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around a joint are, the less stress, friction, and pain there will be.

Strength training, like aerobic exercise, can give people a sense of well-being, and it may help alleviate the depression that sometimes accompanies aging and diabetes.

Strong arms and legs also make everyday activities easier, whether it’s carrying groceries, climbing stairs, or getting in and out of the bathtub. Strong ankles and thighs help prevent falls, which are the most common cause of injuries in senior citizens and are a common reason for being admitted to a nursing home.

It’s practically never too late to start strength training. A number of studies have shown that people in their 70’s, 80’s, and even 90’s can dramatically increase their muscle mass and their strength through high-intensity strength training. Since strength training carries some risk of injury, especially when starting out, it’s a good idea to receive proper training with the equipment at a YMCA or other health club. As always, check with your doctor before embarking on any exercise program.

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