Get Moving! New Physical Activity Guidelines! (Part 1)

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I was looking back at all the blog posts I’ve written and realized that one topic I’ve yet to write about, after all this time, is physical activity.

Now, I can just hear the inward groans from all the readers. Who wants to hear about exercise and physical activity? Most of us know we need to do it, and most of us know we don’t get enough. What more is there to say?

Actually, quite a bit. And with the first ever release of the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services just recently, I thought this would be a timely topic to write about.

Those of us who either have diabetes or work in the diabetes field know that nutrition is a “cornerstone” of diabetes self-management. Another cornerstone is physical activity.

Back in the early 1900s, Dr. Elliott P. Joslin adamantly prescribed exercise to all of his patients, along with diet and insulin. Looks like he was on to something way back then. In fact, it would be hard to refute that both cornerstones need to be “in place” for one to successfully manage diabetes. (That’s not to say that medication and blood glucose monitoring aren’t also important).

Yet, despite the emphasis we’ve placed on exercise, how many of us can truly say we’re physically active most days of the week? If we’re being truthful, probably not many. I’ll confess that I’m not as active as I should be, even though I know what to do and how good it is for me. What about you?

What Can Physical Activity Do For You?
Among so many other things, physical activity can:

  • Lower blood glucose. It’s no secret that exercise helps people with diabetes. Here’s how: when you’re doing physical activity, you’re moving the large muscles in your legs and arms. This requires energy in the form of glucose. For your body to use energy, it needs insulin to help move glucose from your blood into your cells. So, whether you take medicine to help yourself use your body’s own insulin or you inject insulin, having enough insulin on board will help mobilize the glucose hanging out in your bloodstream to enter your cells to help fuel your body.

    You can see where I’m going with this: The more you move, the more you can lower your blood glucose level. By the way, the more activity you do and the more regularly you do it, the less medication (pills or insulin) you’ll likely need.

    And insulin isn’t the only hormone involved with exercise. Other hormones, such as glucagon, signal the liver to release more or less glucose, as needed, for energy. And these hormones can help trigger the breakdown of fat into fatty acids, which is another fuel source for the body.

  • Control weight. The old adage is that in order to lose weight, we need to take in fewer calories and/or burn more calories. Calorie-cutting is a given when you want to lose weight, but you can only cut back so much before your metabolism begins to wind down. To move things along and to jump-start your metabolism, you literally have to “move it.”

    Physical activity by itself generally doesn’t result in too much weight loss, but combined with a lower-calorie eating plan, it can result in a greater weight loss than if you just cut calories alone. Also, regular physical activity is essential for keeping off the weight you’ve lost. In fact, one of the key learnings from the National Weight Control Registry is that successful “losers” are those who, among other things, get at least one hour of activity every day!

  • Improve your fitness. Physical activity improves fitness. Being physically fit encompasses much more than just looking good. For example, being aerobically fit means that your heart and lungs are able to transport oxygen to your cells and tissues more efficiently so that you can perform tasks, such as climbing a flight of stairs, without having to stop and gasp for breath. Being muscularly fit means that your muscles are strong, you have less body fat, and you burn calories efficiently (rather than storing them as fat). Other aspects of “being fit” include having the flexibility to move and stretch without injuring yourself.
  • Lead to heart health. People with diabetes have double the risk of heart disease than those without. Luckily, you can do something about these odds. Lower your risk with physical activity, which can lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure, and can strengthen your heart.

More next week!

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