How Does Exercise Help in Diabetes?

About 26 million people, which are about 8% of the entire population of the United States, are diabetes patients. Apart from this, there are about 80 million people more, who suffer from a pre-diabetes stage. This means that if this condition is not prevented, they too will soon become a diabetic patient. By 2050, the number of diabetes patients will reach about one in every three Americans, as per the reports and estimation of The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite this extremely disturbing statistic, the good news is that type 2 diabetes, which is the more widespread diabetes type, is highly manageable and preventable. With lifestyle changes, one can effectively manage type 2 diabetes. Amongst other major lifestyle changes, one thing that has really proven useful and effective in reducing diabetes and brings a person back to normal life is exercise.

Benefits of Physical Activity and Exercise on Blood Glucose Level or Diabetes

How Does Exercise Help in Diabetes?

There are two direct ways in which exercising can help diabetes patients. These are –

  • Reducing Risk of Heart Disease: Research studies have proven that the type 2 diabetes can be controlled to a great extent with the help of exercises. It is estimated that about 65% of all diabetes patients die from one or the other form of heart disease or stroke. Diabetes leads to the deposition of fat around the heart, abdomen and liver. With a moderate exercise program, the fat levels decrease, along with the risk for heart diseases and also the diabetes level comes under control.
  • Curing and Controlling Diabetes itself: Most people have the misconception that diabetes cannot be treated and one is doomed for the rest of the life. However, this is not the truth. Diabetes can well be ‘cured’ and ‘controlled permanently’. Exercise can play an important role in the management and treatment of diabetes.

The Mechanism in which Exercise Helps in Diabetes:

Though you take medicines, have a planned meal and also undergo stress management programs, it is very important that you make exercising a part of your life. This can help you manage your blood glucose level. Physical activity makes the cells more sensitive to insulin hormone. Thus, the insulin hormone works better after exercising and helps the cells in removing the glucose from the blood.

To be specific, the body muscles can use the blood glucose, without the use of insulin hormone. Hence, if you are a diabetes patient and cannot produce insulin hormone or cannot use the produced insulin hormone, your muscles still can use it as muscles do not require the insulin hormone to use glucose. It is a separate mechanism and thus, the body can maintain a lower blood glucose level. When you practice exercise or do any kind of physical activity, the muscles can make use of the necessary amount of glucose in the blood and form energy which is required to perform an activity.

Benefits of Physical Activity and Exercise on Blood Glucose Level or Diabetes:

  • Exercise and physical activities helps lower the risk of stroke and heart disease.
  • Improves blood circulation and manages blood pressure
  • Exercising helps in maintaining weight or losing weight
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Improves quality of life
  • Relieves stress
  • Reduces signs of depression
  • Helps you sleep better.

Things to do Before Starting Exercise for Diabetes:

Before you start to manage and control your blood sugar levels, it is a must that you track your blood sugar level before the physical activity, during exercising and after exercising. However, if you have started taking medicines from the time you have been inactive and are planning to start your exercising regime now, you should discuss the proper exercises, the time of exercising and also the impacts of the medicine on your blood sugar level post exercise regime with your treating physician.

Since most type 2 diabetes patients are overweight, it is a must that you get started on a good exercise plan. Usually, a doctor would recommend 150 minutes of moderately intense activity or exercise session for a week. These include –

There are other exercises as well that you can practice, so that you keep moving. You can also try dancing, gardening, water aerobics, golfing etc.

  • Checking the Heart Health: The doctor will start with checking your heart health – whether you have a high blood pressure or blocked arteries.
  • Checking Other Diabetes Related Complications: The doctor will also check if you have other diabetes related complications such as retinopathy or neuropathy.

General Exercise Guideline for Diabetes Patients:

  1. Blood Sugar Lower than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) Before Exercising: Before starting your exercise routine, measure your blood sugar level. If it is below 100 mg/dL, you need to eat a little carbohydrate containing snacks such as glucose biscuits, fruit juices etc.
  2. Blood Sugar 100 to 250 mg/dL (5.6 to 13.9 mmol/L) Range Before Exercising: This is the blood sugar level that you should achieve, before starting your exercise regime.
  3. Blood Sugar 250 mg/dL (13.9 mmol/L) or Higher Before Exercising: This means that your blood sugar level is too high and you have to be careful about your exercise routine. Check for the ketone level in the urine, before starting.

It is very important to have a consultation with your doctor or health care team, before you start your exercise regime if you have diabetes. This is because, if you are overweight or haven’t been exercising since very long, the care provider or the expert will guide you about how to start with the minimally invasive exercises at first. Then, he or she will gradually increase the intensity of the exercise that your body can adapt to.

In Case of Hypoglycemia:

Sometimes, patients, who regularly take insulin injections to reduce their blood glucose levels, suffer from hypoglycemia, which is a condition in which your blood glucose levels fall rapidly and you have a low blood sugar level. This can lead to –

  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death.

Categories of Exercise Regime for Patients with Diabetes

  • Light Physical Activity: In this category, the exercises for a diabetic will make sure that you do not sweat; you breathe normally and can talk or sing normally, while doing the exercises.
  • Moderate Physical Activity: The exercises in this category for diabetes patient will ensure that you breathe fast, but will not be out of breath. After 10 minutes of these exercises, you will start sweating. While doing them, you will be able to talk, but cannot sing.
  • Vigorous Physical Activity: These are very intense and vigorous physical trainings in which you will breathe heavily and deeply and start sweating within a few minutes. You will neither be able to talk, nor sing.

Your physical instructor or health care team will let you know, which category of exercise is suitable for you as a diabetic and when you need to switch from one to the other. You do not have to do all the exercises at once. You can divide them to be practiced throughout the day.

What Type of Exercise Helps in Diabetes?

There are three types of exercises that are good for keeping your blood sugar level under control, if you are a diabetes patient. These are –

  • Aerobic Exercises for Diabetes: These are exercises that are solely associated with using the larger body muscles. These make you breathe faster and also make your heart beat faster. For about 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercises is a must for diabetes patients. However, one can of course, split the time in several small sections, distributed throughout the day. The exercises that fall under this category are –
    • Walking
    • Swimming
    • Hiking
    • Jogging/Running
    • Playing basketball
    • Climbing stairs
    • Playing Tennis
    • Ice skating, in-line skating, or skateboarding
    • Taking a water-aerobics class
    • Dancing
    • Riding stationary bicycle indoors
    • Basketball.

You can discuss with your physical activity instructor or trainer about the right exercise for you as a diabetic.

  • Strength Training Exercise for Diabetes: This kind of exercise helps you in keeping your muscles and bones healthy. This is important as your muscles can burn more calories than the stored fats. Hence, if you vigorously train your muscles to be lean and less fatty, you will burn more calories and more blood sugar will be used, while keeping you fit, healthy and keep off your weight. You can do –
    • Elastic band stretching
    • Hand weights
    • Weight machines etc.

These can be practiced at home or at a fitness centre.

  • Stretching Exercises for Diabetes: This is a free hand exercise activity that is usually light to moderate in intensity. It helps you relax and breathe better. Muscle tension caused by other exercises and injuries or due to excessive blood sugar level, extreme stress and tension caused by diabetes, can be relieved with this training. This includes –

Your exercising pattern should ideally be a combination of these three types of exercises based on your physician’s advice.

Which is the Best Time to Exercise for Diabetes?

The time of your exercising for diabetes is dependent on –

  • Your daily schedule
  • The time of taking diabetes medicines
  • A healthy eating plan.

Your health care team or instructor will determine the right time to practice these exercises if you have diabetes. They will also let you know, if you are a type 1 diabetes patient, whether you should do light or moderate exercise or not do any at all. Since there is a high chance of having ketones in the urine, if you are a type 1 diabetes patient, you should not be too much active physically as the blood glucose levels go high in this case. For type 2 diabetes patient, the switch from one category of exercises to the other will be guided by the instructor.

Exercising is the best and natural way to keep off blood glucose and also to stay fit. However, while exercising, make sure you wear light and breathable clothes and do not hurt your body or ignore any injury. Let your feet relax after the exercise. Keep monitoring your blood glucose level all the time. Moreover, you should also be careful with your diet. Cheating on your diet will have catastrophic results on your health.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 6, 2018

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