As many of our regulars already know, the fight against diabetes is especially near and dear to the hearts of all of us here at Body Xchange. We understand the devastating effects of this disease, and we appreciate the talents of proper eating and appropriate medication in controlling blood glucose levels. Nevertheless, an effective treatment plan will include another component: exercise. The truth is that when it comes to keeping diabetes in check, those who make a point of staying active and fit are already ahead of the game.
Diabetes has two identifying hallmarks: abnormal carbohydrate metabolism and excessive levels of glucose in the blood. There are various reasons for this. In some cases, the body is unable to produce insulin in sufficient amounts to process the excess sugar. Then, there are the people who do produce enough insulin but whose bodies are unable to properly use it.
The beauty of exercise is its ability to reduce the levels of glucose in the blood, and it will do this regardless of the underlying reason behind the condition. That’s because when your muscles are under stress, they look to sugar for the energy they need to keep performing. They get this sugar from the blood and immediately work to burn it, causing blood glucose levels to naturally subside. As an added benefit, exercise can boost the body’s ability to utilize the insulin it already has, thereby increasing its effectiveness.
Exercise and Diabetes Complications
Diabetes does not exist in a vacuum. It is famous for causing long-term complications of which heart disease is one of the more common. It arises from the diabetic’s tendency to develop arteriosclerosis, the blocked-artery condition that is famous for leading to heart attack. Exercise helps to fight this situation by boosting good cholesterol and strengthening the heart, thereby keeping heart disease at bay.
At the same time, exercise does so much more. It will:
- Strengthen your bones and muscles.
- Speed weight loss.
- Normalize blood pressure.
- Boost your energy levels.
- Improve your mood.
- Lower stress.
- Help you get a good night’s sleep.
However, before you begin an exercise routine, there are a few things to consider.
First, Have a Word With Your Doctor
If you have suffered from diabetes for any length of time, your body may already be paying the price. You could very well be overweight. Arteriosclerosis might already have set in. Your blood pressure could be higher than you’d like, and complications like neuropathy and retinopathy may already have gained a foothold. That’s why it’s essential to discuss any planned exercise with your doctor. He or she will be familiar with your current physical condition and can refer you to an expert for help in deciding on an exercise regime that will be of the most benefit.
Once you’ve gotten the go-ahead, it’s important to start out slowly. While you’re likely to be in a hurry to see results, fitness is something you really can’t rush, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while. A slow-and-steady pace is kinder to your body, and even the smallest early steps are going to do you some good. As your strength begins to improve, you can gradually increase the intensity of your exercise routine.
The Three Faces of Fitness
Exercise comes in three distinct varieties, and the perfect workout routine will include some of each. In planning your fitness strategy, try to make a point of including:
- Aerobics. Anything that speeds up your heart rate and gets you breathing harder qualifies as aerobic. It could be something as simple as walking or as strenuous as a fast set of tennis, with all sorts of levels in between. Whatever your aerobic choice, it’s best to start with about 10 minutes daily, gradually building up to a full half hour. In addition, you needn’t stick to the same aerobic exercise every day. You might jog on a Monday, walk the dog on Tuesday and spend some time on Wednesday bike-riding with your kids. Whatever you decide to do, make it something you enjoy. Otherwise, you’ll find all sorts of excuses to avoid it.
- Strength training. After you’ve gotten into the daily aerobics habit, it’s time to add some strength training. Because stressed muscles burn the most glucose, weight lifting can be of the greatest benefit in lowering blood sugar levels. However, it’s important that you use the equipment correctly, and this is where personal training comes in. A good instructor will demonstrate the proper way to use the machines and perform the routines. If you can build up to two or three 20-minute sessions a week, your body will thank you for it.
- Flexibility work. Stretching the muscles before and after exercise should be a priority. It relaxes them and reduces the chance of later soreness. There are seven types of stretches in all, some of which rely on simply holding a stretched position while others incorporate such things a bouncing, muscle isolation, isometrics or various combinations of them all, done either alone or with the aid of a partner.
Remember to stay hydrated throughout, and check your blood sugar levels before you begin your exercise routine. Take another reading in the middle of your workout, and give your levels a final once-over when you’re through. This is particularly important for people on medications that serve to lower blood sugar.
There is one more thing to keep in mind. It is always possible that after a workout, your blood glucose levels could remain at normal levels for hours or even overnight, then begin to drop unexpectedly. Be on the alert for shakiness, weakness, irritability or other signs that your sugar has started to fall too low. A small snack eaten before your workout could help to prevent this.
Now That You’ve Started, Keep It Up
If you suffer from diabetes, physical activity can play a vital role in improving the status of your current health and keeping you well in the long term. Find a routine that you enjoy and promise yourself to stay the course. Your blood sugar levels will thank you for it.