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Exercise & Diabetes

You are no doubt aware that exercise can help prevent the serious complications that often come with diabetes and heart disease. Research has repeatedly shown that regular physical activity helps reduce the likelihood of having a heart attack or a stroke, aids in weight loss, and improves mood.
But do you know that exercise can also help you reduce your blood glucose levels? That's right. In people with type II diabetes, exercise may improve insulin sensitivity and assist in lowering elevated blood glucose levels into the normal range.

Here's how. When you exercise, your body uses more oxygen -- as much as 20 times more -- and even more in the working muscles, than when you are at rest. So the muscles use more glucose to meet their increased energy needs.

At the same time, exercise improves the action of insulin in the peripheral muscles, making it more efficient, so you get more out of the insulin your body is producing.

In older people with diabetes, the decrease in insulin sensitivity that comes with aging is also partly due to a lack of physical activity. So regular exercise benefits you now, and for years to come.

Sometimes, it may seem easier to pop a pill or even take a shot than to put on your walking shoes and hit the trail. But the truth is that exercise, in combination with a healthy diet, is one of the best things you can do to take care of yourself if you have diabetes.

Why exercise?

  • Exercise burns calories, which will help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Regular exercise can help your body respond to insulin and is known to be effective in managing blood glucose. Exercise can lower blood glucose and possibly reduce the amount of medication you need to treat diabetes, or even eliminate the need for medication.
  • Exercise can improve your circulation, especially in your arms and legs, where people with diabetes can have problems.
  • Exercise can help reduce your cholesterol and high blood pressure. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
  • Exercise helps reduce stress, which can raise your glucose level.
  • In some people, exercise combined with a meal plan, can control type II Diabetes without the need for medications.

Sources: National Diabetes Data Group. Diabetes in America, 2nd edition. NIDDK.
One recent study showed that a 20-minute stroll lengthened the life of diabetics by 39% regardless of age, sex, race, body mass index, and presence of complications.

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