The extra life-saving benefits of exercise for diabetics

It’s hard to think of a health condition that exercise won’t help.

For starters, we have solid evidence that exercise can slow the growth of cancer and make chemotherapy more bearable.

It boosts “good” HDL cholesterol and lowers LDLs that contribute to clogged arteries and increased stroke and heart attack risk.

A little heavy breathing and sweating can help you lose those unwanted pounds and even improve your mood.

And, if you have type 2 diabetes, you’ll be pleased to know about two ways that even a moderate amount of exercise can prevent complications you might not even be aware of…

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How exercise controls blood sugar

When you exercise, your muscles use some of the glucose in your blood. It doesn’t matter whether you are insulin-resistant or don’t have enough insulin. Your muscles still use that glucose and your blood sugar levels go down.

What’s even better is that aerobic exercise makes your insulin more effective. That is, your insulin resistance goes down and your cells can use glucose more effectively.

Related: The diabetes spice that beat metformin

One study showed that very brief periods of high-intensity exercise improved blood glucose levels for up to three days after exercising.

And at least two other studies found that post-meal walking had a greater effect on lowering blood sugar than walking at other times during the day.

Moderate aerobics can prevent a heart attack

Not everyone realizes that type 2 diabetes increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.

The endothelium (blood vessel lining) plays a key role in controlling blood vessel health. In type 2 diabetes, endothelial cells tend to malfunction, leaving you an easy target for plaque buildup, stroke and heart attack.

By measuring flow-mediated dilation (the widening of an artery as blood pass through it), doctors can determine the degree of endothelial damage that is present.

Related: How statins can triple your risk of diabetes

In a review of eight studies that involved a total of 306 patients, Korean researchers measured flow-mediated dilation and found that low-intensity exercise such as walking had resulted in significant improvement in endothelial function.

What was interesting, and what may be encouraging to you, is that low-intensity exercise had a greater positive effect than mid- or high-intensity exercise!

What does this mean? Simply, that you don’t need to go out and run a marathon in order to lower your risk for heart attack. Thirty minutes of walking at least five times a week will do just fine.

How to start an exercise program

If you haven’t exercised much lately, you’ll want to start slow and gradually increase the frequency of your activity.

It’s smart to check your blood glucose level before beginning exercise. Carry water and a 15g carb snack to prevent low blood glucose.

The American Diabetes Association recommends thirty minutes of walking a day, at least five days a week. Try not to go more than two days in a row without exercising.

Of course, if you don’t have time for thirty minutes, you can break it into three shorter walks of ten minutes each.

Besides a brisk walk outside or on a treadmill, the following activities qualify as well:

  • Bicycling (outdoors or on a stationary bike)
  • Dancing
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Stair climbing
  • Roller skating
  • Cross-country skiing

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Other ways to avoid a heart attack

If you have type 2 diabetes, your blood vessels are vulnerable to stress from high blood sugar levels. So that makes it even more important for you to follow some basic lifestyle modifications that are well within your control…

  • Don’t smoke
  • Eat healthy fats to control your LDL cholesterol levels. A Mediterranean-style diet plan is a great place to start.
  • Meditate or find other ways to de-stress and keep your blood pressure under control.
  • If you drink alcohol be sure to do so in moderation.

Here’s a handy list that will remind you of the simple lifestyle changes that will protect your heart.

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  1. What are the effects of exercise in type 2 diabetes? — Medical News Bulletin
  2. The effects of exercise on vascular endothelial function in type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis — Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome
  3. Type 2 Diabetes and Exercise —
  4. Best Beginning Yoga Postures for Diabetes —
  5. The impact of brief high-intensity exercise on blood glucose levels — Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity
  6. Slow Post Meal Walking Reduces the Blood Glucose Response: An Exploratory Study in Female Pakistani Immigrants — Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.