Diabetes and Kickboxing

If you find that walking on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike is getting old, why not kick your workouts up a notch? Kickboxing is a combination of boxing and other martial arts, and millions of people have turned to its recreational form, cardio kickboxing, not only because it’s a great workout  — but also because it’s a lot of fun.

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Cardio kickboxing burns a whopping 350–400 calories an hour, which should be welcome news to anyone trying to lose weight. It also offers a high-intensity aerobic workout, which has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. It works virtually every area of the body, including arms, legs, core, back and gluteal muscles. It can also improve flexibility and lighten one’s mood, especially when practiced in a group setting.

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What to expect

Classes typically start with a warm-up to get the heart rate up. Warm-up exercises may include light jogging, jumping jacks, sit-ups, lunges, planks and burpees. (For the blissfully unaware, planks involve holding a high-push-up position, and burpees involve moving quickly and repeatedly from a standing position to a squat, jumping or stepping back into a plank, jumping or stepping back into a squat, and standing up again.)

The bulk of cardio kickboxing classes consist of combinations of different kicks and punches. Here are the basics.

• A jab is a straight punch with the hand closest to the target, accompanied by a quick turn of the torso in the direction of the punch.

• A cross is a straight punch with the hand furthest from the target.

• A hook is a rounded punch to the head or body in an arching motion.

• An uppercut is a rising punch to the chin.

• A front kick involves striking the head or chest with the ball of the foot.

• A side kick is a lateral kick, striking with the heel with the leg parallel to the floor.

• A roundhouse kick involves opening the hip so that it is parallel with the floor and slapping the target with the top of the foot or the shin.

Proper form is important for avoiding injury. For example, most punches and kicks should be accompanied by a slight turn on the ball of the foot to avoid twisting the knee. An instructor can make sure your form is correct.

Classes typically end with cool-down and stretching. Stretching is important after intense exercise to avoid getting tight and sore, and the best time to do it is right after exercise, while the muscles are still warm.

Kickboxing and diabetes

Kickboxing can offer multiple benefits for people with diabetes or even prediabetes. Amanda Stonkus, 43, a contracts manager with a computer consulting company, was diagnosed with prediabetes during a routine physical exam four years ago. Her health-care team recommended diet and exercise. She joined a gym but found that she didn’t go that often. Three years ago, she tried out cardio kickboxing classes. Since then, she has lost 80 pounds, her blood glucose levels have dropped into the normal range, she no longer has high blood pressure, and she generally feels more fit.

David Taylor, 55, a database administrator, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes over 10 years ago. Before he began cardio kickboxing a few years ago, his hemoglobin A1C level was usually between 8% and 10%. When he is able to kickbox regularly, his level is often 6% or below — not to mention he developed flat abs. “It changed my life!” he said.

People with diabetes should check with their health-care team before embarking on a new exercise program. Kickboxing might not be right for you, for example, if you have diabetic neuropathy or poor circulation in the feet.

It is important to stay hydrated during an intense workout like kickboxing, so everyone should bring water. Individuals with diabetes should bring plenty of carbohydrates or other snacks. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends testing blood glucose before you work out — and if it is under 100 mg/dl, have a snack. The ADA also recommends testing blood glucose 15 to 30 minutes later and to have another snack if it isn’t above 100 mg/dl.

Yet, when it comes to blood glucose management, Virginia Peragallo-Dittko, RN, CDE, BC-ADM, FAADE, FAAN, executive director of the Diabetes and Obesity Institute at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, New York, emphasizes that every person is different and every exercise is different. Most cardio kickboxing classes incorporate high-intensity interval training, which has a very different effect than a sustained activity like walking on a treadmill. In fact, she knows of one woman who regularly engaged in cardio kickboxing and had determined her insulin settings for kickboxing. When she applied the same insulin pump settings while walking on a treadmill, she immediately developed hypoglycemia. “You really can’t predict what effect a different exercise will have,” Peragallo-Dittko said.

She said it’s also important to realize that an introductory (light exercise) class may have a different effect on blood glucose than a regular class will. “Learning how to prevent hypoglycemia before and after exercise takes time,” she said. “Some people treated with insulin or sulfonylureas who are exercising to enhance their weight-loss goals can become discouraged because they may require a snack prior to exercise to prevent hypoglycemia and eat more carbohydrate if they do have hypoglycemia. However, if they stick with it and figure out the best approach, they find that they require fewer snacks and burn more calories.”

Getting started

Cardio kickboxing classes are more widely available than ever before. You can find them at many YMCAs and other fitness centers, and some commercial chains offer classes specifically in cardio kickboxing, such as I Love Kickboxing and Title Boxing Club. In these classes, instructors can offer encouragement and feedback on proper form. In some classes, students strike a bag, while in others, they kick and punch into the air. There are also several instructional DVDs available, as well as free videos on fitnessblender.com, which allow you to practice in the comfort of your own home.

The thought of launching into an intensive exercise routine like cardio kickboxing can seem intimidating at first. “Some people are shy about coming in because they’re embarrassed about their current fitness level,” said Michael Peroni, owner and operator of I Love Kickboxing in Peabody, Massachusetts. “But you don’t have to be in good shape to get started. You get in good shape by getting started. We start by helping our students define their goals and then develop better habits.”

“Don’t get discouraged,” Taylor said. “Stick with it, and it becomes a habit.”

“The important thing is to get into a routine and stick with it,” echoes Stonkus. “It’s difficult at first, but then it becomes a habit and part of your lifestyle. I have a lot of friends in class, and they help to keep me motivated.”

Want to learn more about exercise and diabetes? Read “Exercise Myths and Facts” and “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals.”

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