If you have type 2 diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes, physical activity is a major component of your treatment plan. It is also important that you eat well and maintain your blood glucose levels through medication or insulin, as necessary and advised by your doctor. Staying fit and active will help you to keep your blood glucose levels in the normal range, which is essential for preventing long-term complications like kidney disease and nerve pain.
How does exercise help?
Exercise is essential for good physical and mental health. In terms of diabetes, exercise can help to reduce the glucose in your blood. How? Because muscles can use glucose without insulin when you are exercising. This means that it doesn’t matter if you are insulin resistant or don’t have enough insulin – when you exercise, your muscles will take the glucose they need, and as a result your blood glucose level will go down. Exercise also helps people with diabetes (who are particularly susceptible to developing blocked arteries) to maintain good cholesterol and a healthy and strong heart.
Other benefits of exercise:
- Controls weight
- Lowers blood pressure
- Increases level of good cholesterol (HDL)
- Boosts energy
- Improves sleep
- Helps with stress management
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Improves mood and increases ‘happy’ chemicals
- Strengthen muscles
You can read more about the benefits of exercise here.
Before you start exercising
Most people who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight, so regular exercise might seem like a daunting concept. However, if you want to manage your diabetes and improve your overall health, exercise is essential. Before starting exercise, your first step is to consult with your doctor. Your doctor will check your heart health, your blood pressure and take into consideration other diabetes-related concerns like retinopathy or neuropathy. Once you have the OK from your doctor, an exercise physiologist can help you to figure out a reasonable exercise plan that suits your health complications, your existing level of fitness and your lifestyle.
Although being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes changes your life, exercising regularly and eating well can help you to manage your condition and live a long and healthy life. If you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s important that you start out slow and gradually build yourself up to a steady and challenging exercise routine.
What kind of exercises should you do?
This will depend entirely on your individual situation. However, exercise plans will generally feature a balance of 3 kinds of exercise: aerobic, strength training and flexibility.
Aerobic exercise includes:
- Tennis and basketball
- Bike riding
Most people should aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every day. This can be broken up into small 5 or 10 minute chunks. If you find it hard to fit a set workout into your work day, get creative – ride a bike to work, take the stairs rather than the elevator or go for a brisk stroll on your lunch break (check with your doctor before making these changes).
Once you are managing to include enough aerobic exercise into your days, you can start introducing some strength training. Strength training will make your muscles leaner and more efficient and help you to maintain strong and healthy bones. Muscle training is particularly important for people with type 2 diabetes, because the more you use your muscles, the more you will be able to control your blood glucose level. Lifting weights for 20 to 30 minutes, 3 times per week is enough to get the full benefits of strength training.
Flexibility training – i.e. reasonably stretching your muscles or tendons past their regular range of motion, will improve the ways that your muscles and joints work. For more information about stretching with diabetes, see this page.
People with diabetes need to take extra care when exercising, so make sure to organise a full medical examination with your GP before making any changes to your current health routine. Once you have the go-ahead from your doctor, a registered exercise physiologist is the most qualified person to develop a tailored and suitable exercise plan that suits you. Our Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Matthew Brozovich, specialises in developing exercise plans for controlling diabetes. You can book a consultation with him here.
For more information about exercising safely with diabetes, please read this page from the Diabetes Australia website.