Dr. Sheri Colberg is a professor of exercise science, author of books on diabetes, and world renowned exercise and diabetes expert.
Even though I lived with diabetes decades before home blood glucose monitoring was available, I knew even without being able to test that being active helped with my blood glucose control. How could I tell without a meter? Exercising always made me feel better, physically and emotionally. In fact, as I went through my teenage years without any way to know what my blood glucose levels were, exercising regularly gave me the only sense of control that I had over my diabetes.
Nowadays, you have access to information about exercising with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and there are quite a few useful things to know. Most of them are also summarized on my new website for anyone who wants to be active with diabetes: http://www.DiabetesMotion.com.
(1) Exercise can virtually erase your blood glucose mistakes.
It wasn’t until I got my first meter in the mid-1980s that I found out how much. Exercise acts as an extra dose of insulin by getting the glucose out of your blood and into your muscles without insulin (related to muscle contractions themselves). When you’re not being active, your body needs insulin to stimulate that uptake. Being regularly active makes your muscles more sensitive to any insulin in your body as well, so it takes less to get the job done, whether your body makes it or you pump or inject it. What better way to help erase a little overeating of carbs or insulin resistance than a moderate dose of exercise to lower your blood glucose naturally?
(2) Exercise doesn’t always make your blood glucose come down right away.
When you do intense exercise, your glucose-raising hormones like adrenaline can actually raise your blood glucose instead, although the effect is usually temporary. However, even if a workout raises it in the short run, over a longer period of time (around two to three hours), the residual effects of the exercise will bring your blood glucose back down as you replace the carbs in your muscles that you expended. If you take insulin, you’ll likely need less than normal to correct a post-workout high, so don’t take too much or your blood glucose will come crashing down a few hours later. If you don’t take insulin, just give your blood sugars time to come back down or do a cool-down of less intense exercise like walking or yoga to help bring it back to normal.
(3) Exercise helps you build and retain your muscle mass, which is critical as a storage depot for the carbs you eat.
Almost any type of exercise uses up some of this muscle glycogen, but if you don’t exercise regularly, your muscles remain packed with it. Think of it like a gas tank: You eat carbs and they go into storage in the muscle tank. If the tank is full because you’re sitting around, you’ll exceed your storage capacity and your blood glucose goes up. Therefore, being sedentary ensures that no amount of insulin is going to stimulate more blood glucose uptake into your muscles. You then need more insulin to lower your blood glucose, which then gets converted into and stored as body fat. You also want the tank to be as large as possible, which means exercising regularly to prevent losing muscle as you age. You lose the muscle fibers you don’t use.
(4) Exercise is probably the best way to control emotional stress and to stave off depression.
Exercise can help us control emotional problems far better than antidepressant medications and with no bad side effects!
(5) Exercise has a natural antioxidant effect on your body.
This is why regular exercisers are less likely to develop most types of cancer; why they generally feel and act younger than their chronological age; why they’re less likely to even get a cold if doing moderate amounts of regular exercise; and why exercise is about the best medicine that there is for so many other health conditions.
(6) There are many different ways to exercise.
Exercise methods include standing up more, taking extra steps during the day, fidgeting, and just generally being on the move whenever and wherever possible. Knowing that hopefully takes away all of your excuses for not being more active. If you can’t get in a “planned” workout on any given day, you can certainly add in more steps or other activity all day long instead (or do it in addition to your usual exercise). Every bit of movement you do during the day counts, so fidget away!
If you need motivation or tips for getting started on an exercise program, check out my book The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan. For people with any type of diabetes who are already active but want more in-depth information about exercise, my book Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook is for you. It’s packed with good information for type 1 and type 2 exercisers, along with real-life athlete examples, athlete profiles, and over 100 sports and recreational activities.
For inspiration about living long and well with diabetes, consider reading 50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes. For all sorts of other tips on exercise, fitness, diabetes, nutrition, and more, please visit my website and blog at http://www.shericolberg.com.