Exercise: One of the Best Ways to Prevent or Manage Diabetes

4 years ago

After Diabetes Month and some encouraging stats showing a significant drop in the number of newly diagnosed diabetics (by 18% in the last 5 years), we’d like to continue the discussion of diabetes and share the benefits of exercise in prevention and management of the condition.

If you have type 2 diabetes, staying physically active is one of the best things you can do in terms of management and prevention of complications. For the 86 million Americans who have prediabetes, exercise can help prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. 

How do Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes Compare?

First off, diabetes is a metabolic disorder that affects either how the body produces or effectively uses insulin. Insulin is the hormone responsible for moving glucose (sugar) from the blood to the muscles for energy. 

Over 29 million people in the United States have diabetes and 90-95% of these people are type 2 diabetics. When you have type 2 diabetes your body doesn’t use insulin properly—this is known as insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, muscle cells do not respond to insulin normally, so your pancreas produces more and more insulin to keep your blood glucose levels normal. Eventually, your pancreas cannot keep up with this overproduction and your blood glucose level begins to rise. Over time, this can lead to heart disease, nerve damage, and kidney or eye problems. 

Prediabetes is a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Without weight loss and physical activity, 15-30% of those with prediabetes develop into type 2 diabetes within five years. The causes of type 2 diabetes vary, but the major triggers are diet, inactivity, and obesity, specifically excess abdominal fat. 

How Exercise Helps to Control Blood Glucose:

  • Lowers blood glucose by increasing the muscle’s ability to use glucose
  • Improves the body’s insulin sensitivity by reducing body fat and increasing your body’s ability to use glucose for energy after exercise
  • In some cases, it can decrease the amount of blood glucose medication needed
  • Helps lower A1C (your average blood glucose over 3 months)

Any type of physical activity can help prevent or manage type 2 diabetes, but studies show that combining aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, biking, dancing, etc.) with resistance training (bands, dumbbells, bodyweight, etc.) produces the greatest benefit. Aerobic exercise helps the muscles use more glucose, and resistance training builds more muscle, which in turn leads to more glucose absorption and lowers blood glucose.

Exercise Guidelines and Precautions: 

  • Talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise program
  • Monitor blood glucose before and after exercise, especially if you are taking insulin or oral hypoglycemic medications.
  • Watch for signs of hypoglycemia such as shakiness, excessive sweating, and confusion.
  • Always carry a carbohydrate source with you such as glucose tablets, gels, or juice.
  • Include at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week. Work toward 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Include resistance training at least two times a week for all major muscle groups. Be sure to check with your doctor first if you have any complications such as neuropathy. 

It’s never too late to start exercising! Begin where you are with your fitness level and incorporate some movement today to help prevent or manage diabetes.  Log your fitness activities in RevUp and share with your RevUp Care Team Lead.