Most of us will have heard or been told about exercise being one of the most beneficial things we can do for our health. But what exactly is exercise's relationship to our blood sugar?
Can movement really be a key part of your diabetes management?
People with type 2 diabetes have too much glucose in their blood, either because their body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or because they are insulin resistant and their body doesn’t use insulin properly.
In both cases, exercise can help to reduce glucose in your blood. Muscles use glucose without insulin when you’re exercising, so it doesn’t matter whether you are insulin resistant or you don’t have enough insulin. When you exercise, your muscles will get the glucose they need, and as a result, your blood glucose levels will go down.
When we eat carbohydrates, our bodies utilise these as a fuel source. Activity helps to expend energy; this in itself can help to lower blood glucose levels, which is valuable if you have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.
Any remaining glucose will be reserved in the form of glycogen in the liver and muscles. Once glycogen stores are full, excess glucose is pushed into fat cells, causing fat gain. During vigorous movement, our muscle glycogen stores are used for energy. Thus, movement can help to prevent fat storage by freeing up muscle and liver glycogen storage space. By reducing your blood glucose levels and glycogen storage, you’re reducing the amount of glucose that is turned into fat.
What Types Of Exercise Can Help?
Aerobic exercise is great for long-term diabetic complications, especially heart problems. People with diabetes are susceptible to developing arteriosclerosis (blocked arteries), potentially leading to a heart attack. Aerobic exercise helps keep your heart healthy. In addition to this, exercise has been shown to increase HDL (good cholesterol), which has heart-protective properties. If weight loss is one of your goals, regular aerobic exercise can help.
Implementing aerobic exercise and maintaining it in your life takes planning and determination, but there are plenty of ways of fitting regular exercise and activity into your life. You don’t need a gym membership to get started, so if you’re not keen on joining a gym or exercising publicly; a garden, bedroom or even your living room is all you need. Exercise DVDs and YouTube videos contain some excellent exercise routines, and we have plenty of cardio exercise videos as part of the Gro Health Program.
However, if you are staying active and trying to control your blood glucose through aerobic exercise alone, you may be missing out on some of the benefits associated with a more varied approach. While aerobic exercise is a great way to stay healthy, improve heart health and lower your risk of stroke, strengthening your muscles is another principal part of staying healthy and managing your type 2.
Strengthening your muscles is another principal part of staying healthy and managing your type 2. It can be especially helpful for controlling your blood glucose levels when you exercise with weights or other forms of resistance, such as exercise bands. This is a result of resistance training’s ability to improve insulin sensitivity.
When you do resistance exercise, your body uses some glucose as energy. Muscle is insulin-sensitive tissue and helps to clear glucose from the blood. Even when you are at rest, muscles that have been worked will store glucose more effectively, helping to keep blood glucose levels stable. Strength training also helps to slow the natural decline in bone density, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Another important goal for many people with type 2 diabetes is fat loss. Resistance training is great for this as the more muscle you have, the higher your Basal Metabolic Rate (number of calories you burn at rest). Although the Low Carb Program doesn’t focus too heavily on calories, having a higher BMR has been shown to decrease the risk of gaining weight.
If you are new to strength training, the first thing to note is that it is very important to start slow and make sure not to overdo it. Nobody ever started out lifting the heaviest weights in the gym. As your muscles get used to these new activities, they will become more familiar with the movements. Muscle memory and increased muscle efficiency will soon allow you to start lifting heavier and more frequently.
It is important to rest muscles for at least one day between sessions. If you feel sore, ease up until you feel better. In the early days, you can still make progress if you only do strength training once per week.
The great thing is, there are so many options when it comes to resistance/strength training. You can use machines, free weights and resistance bands if you venture into the gym. Alternatively, if you want to start your strength exercise, practice at home is also very doable. It requires little to no extra equipment.
There are an endless amount of bodyweight exercises that you can do from home, like squats, lunges, plank, sit-ups and knee or leg raises. You can also use resistance bands, home weight sets or even everyday items like tins of baked beans to add some weight to your workout. We have a variety of strength-based, resistance workout videos available on Gro Health.
One of the most important factors determining whether or not you carry on exercising long-term is your enjoyment of the activity. If it’s not fun, it can feel like a chore. In addition to the physical benefits, if you’re doing something you enjoy, the psychological benefits can be profound.
It’s important to remember that before you start any new activity/exercise regimen, you should check with your doctor to make sure that you are in a position to do so as safely as possible. Discuss any medication you currently take and the possible changes your increased physical activity might have on these.
As each of our bodies are unique, and different types of exercise can impact our blood sugar levels differently, it might be worth checking your blood sugar levels before and after exercising and making a record of them, to see what kind of effect the activity has on your body.