The most commonly asked question we get in the GlucoseZone is a simple one: Why is exercise so important for my health and managing my diabetes? Let’s dive right in.
It’s no secret that we in the GlucoseZone love exercise because we have seen in ourselves and in others what a powerful tool it can be to transform our health, our diabetes, and our lives. If you’re new to exercise or just don’t know a lot about why it’s so beneficial, this blog post is for you. We’re talking all things exercise and hope to encourage you to get out and get moving as much as possible so you can experience all of these amazing side effects firsthand.
First thing’s first: Exercise is beneficial to every single person regardless of whether you have diabetes or not. Tons of books have been written on the subject, but here’s a quick list of all of the ways exercise is good for your mind, body, and overall wellbeing.
- Improves your heart strength and its ability to function
- Keeps cholesterol and blood pressure in a healthy range
- Improves bone density to prevent osteoporosis
- Improves immune function
- Increases your energy levels
- Improves your brain fuction
- Improves mental health
- Makes you feel good with increased endorphin production
- Improves quality of sleep
- Promotes a healthier sex life for both men and women
- Burns calories which helps with weight loss
- Improves the body’s ability to burn fat for fuel
- Increases strength
- Increases muscle mass which improves metabolic rate
So far so good, right? It gets even better. For people living with diabetes, the benefits of exercise are even greater because it helps us manage the more challenging aspects of this disease like roller coaster blood sugar levels, stubborn high blood sugars that won’t come down, and unwanted weight gain.
Exercise increases our muscle stores, which provides more space to store glucose. Think back to the parking lot analogy. By increasing the size of our muscle parking lots to store more glucose we can prevent excess glucose from being stored as fat. It also helps keep our blood sugars in a healthier range because exercise improves the body’s ability to utilize any insulin present, which improves our sensitivity. Increased insulin sensitivity is a good thing: it means you won’t need to take as much insulin and means you can utilize fat for energy instead of glucose more easily. Exercise also lower’s the body’s production of excess insulin (known as hyperinsulinism) which is hugely beneficial for people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. As a result of this decrease in hyperinsulinism, many people will usually need to decrease their medications after exercising more consistently. Therefore, always talk with your doctor before you start a workout program and never make any changes to your medications without consulting your healthcare provider. Another really awesome benefit to exercising for people with diabetes is that physical activity can stimulate the non-insulin dependent uptake of glucose by the muscles. This means certain receptors in your muscles can take in glucose without the need for insulin, which only happens during physical activity.
So now that you know why it’s so good for you, how often should you exercise? Well, simply put, the more you do it, the better it is for you. A good goal to set is to stick to the nationally recommended amount of at least 5 times per week for 30 minutes to reach a total of 150 minutes per week. But if you’re brand new to exercising, you might want to start smaller than that and work up to the recommended amount little by little each week. Don’t overthink it in the beginning and don’t pick something you’ll dread doing. Start by taking the dog for a walk after work a couple times a week, join a weekly class at the gym, play soccer with the kids—anything active that gets you moving and breaking a sweat is great. Remember Newton’s law of physics you learned back in high school: an object at rest will stay at rest, an object in motion will stay in motion. The same is true for your body. You just have to start! The more you build activity into your day to day, the more likely you are to find ways to keep on moving and prioritize exercise as a part of your routine.
Finally, here are a couple key pieces of information regarding blood sugars to keep in mind as you begin your exercise routine. High intensity exercise can cause an increase in blood sugar during the activity, but then result in a lower blood sugar later on in the day. Lower intensity exercise can cause a decrease in blood sugars during the activity as the muscles take up circulating blood sugar for energy and the body is able to use fat for the balance of fuel requirements.
Additionally, if you have type 1 diabetes and there is too much insulin in your body or excess insulin on board before you begin exercising, your body will have trouble utilizing fat for energy and your blood sugar can drop drastically during your workout. Therefore, as a general rule of thumb, we recommend waiting two hours after giving yourself fast acting insulin before beginning a workout. The caveat to this general rule is that everyone’s body is different and you have to figure out what works best for your body. Always test your blood sugar before, during, and after a workout and have fast acting carbs like juice or glucose tablets with you. Also keep a log of the different variables that can affect your blood sugars like how much insulin was present in your body, what time of day you performed exercise, what kind of exercise, and for how long. Tracking these different factors can help you find patterns in your blood sugar so you are better able to predict how your blood sugar will react to exercise.
Now that you know all about diabetes and exercise there’s only one thing left to do: get up and get moving! And don’t forget to join us whenever you want in the GlucoseZone app and for our live workouts every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on YouTube.
By: Lauren Szalkiewicz and LaurieAnn Scher, MS, RD, CDE