What is Diabetes?  Should I be concerned about it?

Diabetes is a disease that affects your body’s ability to control the levels of blood sugar (glucose).  Over time, high blood sugar can lead to problems such as heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, non-healing wounds, vision loss, and nerve damage.  The body requires blood sugar for fuel but high levels can damage the small blood vessels leading to the health problems listed above.  There are  different types of diabetes with various causes but the most common are Type I and Type II.

In Type I Diabetes the body does not produce insulin.  Insulin is a hormone that allows the body to use blood sugar for fuel.  Without insulin, sugar remains in the blood stream leading to damage to the inside of the blood vessels.

In Type II Diabetes the body makes insulin but is unable to use it normally.  The result is similar to Type I diabetes with increased blood glucose causing damage to the small blood vessels throughout the body.

How can exercise help?

  1. Improved blood sugar control.  Each exercise session decreases your blood sugar similar to taking insulin or diabetes medications
  2. Maintain a healthy body weight.  If you have Type II Diabetes you may be able to control your blood sugar without medication if you increase your activity and decrease your body weight.
  3. Increase your lean body weight, more muscle, less fat.  Active muscle helps regulate blood sugar.
  4. Decreased blood pressure.
  5. Improved cholesterol levels.
  6. Improved strength and endurance.

Is exercise safe if I have Diabetes?

With a few precautions exercise is very safe.  The greater risk is being inactive.

  1. First, discuss your exercise plans with your doctor to address any other health issues.
  2. Wear comfortable, well fitting shoes and monitor your feet closely for skin irritation.
  3. If you have any balance difficulties choose exercises that keep you safe and will not cause you to fall.
  4. Monitor your blood sugar before and after exercise for the first few weeks until you know what effect exercise has on your blood sugar levels.  Your blood sugar levels may go lower than usual following an exercise session.

What is hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs when your blood sugar levels are too low. Symptoms can include:

  1. Heavy sweating
  2. Racing heart
  3. Blurry vision
  4. Hunger
  5. Tremors
  6. Headache
  7. Confusion

Low blood sugar can become a medical emergency if not treated promptly. Stop exercise  if you experience low blood sugar.  Drink a few ounces of juice or regular soda (not diet), eat a few small candies or use glucose tablets as recommended by your doctor.  Seek medical attention if your condition does not improve.

Aerobic Exercise

Exercise that increases your heart rate and breathing rate.  At least 150 minutes per week of moderate or at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise is recommended.  Exercise at least 3 days each week.  Exercise can be done in one session each day or in multiple short sessions.   If you cannot do this much exercise, especially when you first start exercising that is OK.  This is amount of exercise is recommended but any amount you do will improve your health.

Exercise should be done most days of the week to take advantage of the positive effects on blood sugar and blood pressure.

Aerobic or endurance exercise is one important part of a healthy lifestyle.  Adding resistance and flexibility training will provide even more benefit.

Resistance Exercise

Resistance training can increase your strength, making your daily activities easier. Exercise for all upper and lower body major muscle groups 2 to 3 days each week.  You can perform resistance training on consecutive days but not for the same muscles.  Allow at least 48 hours rest between exercise sessions for each muscle group. Resistance training can be done with machines, free weights, elastic bands, or body weight resistance.

Flexibility Exercise

This is most effective after your resistance or aerobic training sessions when your muscles are warm.  Stretches should be done for all major muscle groups at least 2 to 3 days each week.  Stretches should be held for at least 10 seconds for a total of 60 seconds for each muscle group.

Balance / Agility Exercise

Balance and agility is not only important for sports, it is also important for day to day activities.  Activities such as climbing a ladder, standing on one foot to put your pants on, or getting in and out of a boat require considerable balance and agility.  There are many ways to improve your balance skills such as standing on one foot, doing exercises on a wobble board or BOSU ball, Tai Chi, or yoga.  Balance exercises should be done at least 2 to 3 days each week.