Older couple riding bicycles

Exercise is the best Medicine Around – why don’t we use it? Carla Cox, Ph.D., RD, CDE, FAADE clarifies the role exercise can play in successful diabetes management. 

Physical movement (the E word – exercise) is a greatly underutilized treatment for type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and heart disease. The recommendation is as little as ½ hour out of a 24 hour day – that means 23.5 hours of time you can do something else, and yet only 23% of Americans attain that small goal

What does moving do? 

1. Physical movement increases your body’s ability to use insulin. For many people with type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance is an important contributor to elevated blood glucose. If someone with type 1 diabetes is overweight, insulin resistance increases the need for more insulin and challenges management. Exercise helps counteract insulin resistance by moving insulin receptors in muscle cells to the surface, helping connect with insulin and allowing glucose to flow out of the bloodstream and into the muscle for energy. This can also occur in a non-insulin related way (non-insulin mediated glucose transport) when exercising. 

2. Physical movement improves heart health. People who live with diabetes have a greater risk of heart disease than those without diabetes. Exercise reduces that risk and makes the heart stronger. Movement improves the flexibility of blood vessels and improves blood flow which can reduce blood pressure. 

How much is enough? 

Any movement (read exercise) is better than none, but the goal, according to experts, should be to exercise most days of the week for at least 30 minutes. Walking, swimming, cycling or other forms of aerobic exercise are recommended with the addition of strength training (using weights, or your body as resistance) 2 -3 days per week. You can break up the sessions into 10 minutes at a time if you choose. For example, indoor cycling for 10 minutes in the morning while watching the weather channel and take a 20-minute walk after dinner. Exercise can have a positive impact on your health and blood glucose levels for 24 or more hours after the activity.

Struggling with pain or other medical conditions limiting your movement?

Make an appointment with a physical therapist (aches and pains) or exercise physiologist (heart disease or breathing problems). These specialists can design a program to fit your needs and abilities.

Getting started

Here are some tips to help you start adding movement to your life: 

  • Take a walk at lunch break or after dinner

  • Join a fitness facility and enjoy the fellowship of exercise in a class with others

  • Find a piece of exercise equipment that fits into your home and use it daily while watching your favorite show

Just move – that’s the lesson from the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans! It will not only benefit your diabetes management, but has been shown to reduce the risk of some cancers, heart disease, and depression. How great is that! 

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