People living with or at risk for diabetes are commonly told that the key to improved diabetes control involves lifestyle changes, including a regular exercise routine. However, it’s not always clear how and why exercise plays such a crucial role.
The word “exercise” can be intimidating, but it does not have to mean running a marathon or bench pressing your body weight. Exercise is simply getting physically active and increasing your heart rate. This can include any cardio workout like walking, running, biking, gardening, climbing stairs, chair exercises, stretch-band exercises, Zumba and yoga.
Why is physical activity so important for people living with or at risk for diabetes?
An indicator of type two diabetes is the inability of cells to respond to insulin, also known as insulin resistance. As a result, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of being used as energy. Physical activity helps to improve insulin sensitivity. The insulin in your body, whether naturally produced or injected, helps the muscle and fat cells use the sugar in your blood more effectively when you exercise regularly.
Exercise also burns calories. Alongside a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to weight loss. Studies have shown that exercise and weight loss decrease certain risk factors associated with diabetes, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Over time, the heart can learn to pump more efficiently, allowing for improved blood flow and decreased risk for stroke and other associated heart diseases.
Physical activity also improves your mood. People with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes and exercise can reverse depression symptoms. Exercising after a meal for as little as 10 – 15 minutes of exercise per day can have a noticeable effect on how you feel and help utilize glucose.
Is 15 minutes of exercise enough to improve blood sugar?
That can take a little more effort. The American Diabetes Association recommends that you somehow “get moving” for 150 minutes per week — or 30 minutes a day, five days a week. This is the minimum amount that has shown significant improvement in blood sugar, cholesterol and weight.
Of course, if exercise is not currently part of your daily routine, no one expects you to begin straight out of the gates with 30 minutes every weekday. Here are steps to safely begin regular physical activity:
- Obtain the “OK” from your healthcare provider. Be safe!
- Brainstorm what works for you —
- Walk for 15 minutes after a meal.
- Play in the park with grandkids.
- Dance during the commercial breaks of your favorite TV show.
- Or try virtual reality exercise with Beat Saber!
Start slowly and go from there. Begin with five to 10 minutes a day, then gradually add five-minute increments until you make it to your goal. You can also try adding strength training to your physical activity. Strength training is a type of physical activity that uses resistance to help your muscles get stronger. Weight training is a common type of resistance. A gym or fitness center may have many different types of dumbbells and weight machines for you to use. But your own body weight, elastic bands and wall pulleys can also provide effective resistance for strength training. Always talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen. Patients with retinopathy, neuropathy and other diabetes-related conditions should check with their primary care provider and specialists before starting any new physical routine(s).
Our primary care team can help you manage ongoing medical conditions, including diabetes and hypertension. If you do not have a primary care provider, you can schedule an appointment with us online or call us at 302-777-0643.
Have fun and enjoy the benefits of being physically active!