Today, more than nine million Canadians are diabetic or pre-diabetic. The number of people with type 2 diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes, is rapidly increasing. Since regular physical activity improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin and helps manage blood glucose levels, both aerobic and resistance exercise is highly recommended.
This could be just about anything that keeps your heart rate elevated for at least 20 minutes. A brisk walk, swimming, cycling and jogging are all great forms of aerobic exercise.
The benefits are the same for diabetics as with anyone else.
1. Improved sensitivity to insulin- Exercise has a powerful effect on insulin sensitivity. Any type of physical exercise has the potential to make your insulin more efficient.
2. Better management of blood glucose levels- Exercise helps to improve blood sugar control, as well as boost your overall fitness. It helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and nerve damage. Be sure to track your blood sugar before, during and after exercise. This will help you to monitor how your body responds to exercise and prevent potentially dangerous blood sugar fluctuations.
The ideal values for blood glucose levels measured in mmol/l (millimoles per liter, a unit of measure that shows the concentration of a substance in a specific amount of fluid) are:
- 4 to 7mmol/l before meals
- less than 10mmol/l 90 minutes after a meal
- around 8mmol/l at bedtime.
3. Increase in heart and lung capacity- Important to improve circulation. Diabetes disrupts the vascular system, affecting many areas of the body such as the eyes, kidneys, legs, and feet. People with diabetes should pay special attention to their feet.
4. Increase in muscular and cardiovascular endurance- Helps to burn extra glucose in the body and decreases resistance to insulin.
5. Reduce heart disease and stroke risk- Diabetics are at an increased of developing coronary heart disease, heart failure, and/or diabetic cardiomyopathy
6. Increased HDL cholesterol- Cholesterol levels are affected by blood pressure and blood glucose. If your blood glucose and blood pressure are high, your cholesterol numbers may be off. Exercise decreases blood pressure and helps manage blood glucose levels.
7. Decreased stress- When your body is stressed, it prepares itself by ensuring that enough sugar or energy is readily available. This causes insulin levels to fall, adrenaline levels to rise, releasing more glucose from the liver. At the same time, growth hormone and cortisol levels rise, which causes body tissues to be less sensitive to insulin. As a result, more glucose is available in the blood stream.
8. Increased mental health- Both depression and schizophrenia are risk factors for the development of type 2 diabetes due to their impact on the body’s resistance to insulin. People with mental illnesses also experience many of the other risk factors for diabetes, such as obesity and high cholesterol levels.¹ Exercise has been shown to reduce all these risk factors.
9. Lower body weight- Losing weight and reducing body fat enables one to control their diabetes better. Losing 5-10 percent of your body weight, you will lower your risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent.
Ideally, you want to do at least three, thirty minute aerobic sessions per week. However, the more sessions per week you do, the better because one aerobic session improves insulin sensitivity for 24 to 75 hours. The length of time will depend on the duration and intensity level. If you’re hypoglycemic you need to careful if you’re running long distances. If you have a nerve dysfunction chose a stationary bike or water sport over the Stairmaster or treadmill.
Resistance exercise includes free weights, machines and resistance bands or tubing.
While the benefits aren’t as many for resistance exercise as they are for aerobic exercise, resistance exercise offers improved glycemic control. Resistance exercise increases muscle strength, lean muscle mass and bone mineral density which enhances functional fitness and glycemic control. It also helps prevent loss of skeletal muscle and osteoporosis.
Resistance exercise should be performed at least three days per week. Again, if you have nerve dysfunction, stick to seated activities (chair-based strengthening an stretching). If you have retinal damage, avoid lifting weights. A better option would be resistance band or tube training.
Don’t Exercise if…
- Your blood sugar is less than 5.5 mmol/l or more than 16.6 mmol/l. Check your blood sugar 30 minutes before exercise to make sure you’re good to go.
- You have numbness or tingling in your hands or feet. Try wiggling your fingers and toes to help regain circulation.
What to Eat
- Before your workout, try having a protein and fat-based snack such as nuts, yogurt, cheese or hummus.
- During your workout you don’t need to eat but you need to stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water or a sport drink with 6% to 7% carbohydrates. If you feel light-headed or dizzy, check your blood sugar levels again.
- After your workout have a whey protein shake with glutamine(glutamine will restore glycogen levels) or be sure to have a meal with both carbs and protein within 1 hour.
A combination of a healthy diet and both aerobic and resistance exercise will help one to take control of their health and limit their need for drugs. This combination will not only help manage type 2 diabetes it may proactively prevent it!