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Exercise: a way to treat diabetes

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Did you know that by including an exercise program to your daily routine, you could achieve a better management of your diabetes? In addition, increasing your level of physical activity could provide you with many other benefits, both for your health and your life in general.

diabete exercice

Exercise as treatment for type 2 diabetes

In Québec, the number of people suffering from type 2 diabetes increases every year, and many others are affected by the condition without even knowing it. It is a well-known fact that physical inactivity is a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. Thankfully, because each one of us has control over our level of physical activity, changes can be made and can potentially have a huge positive impact.

Exercise is at the core of treatment for type 2 diabetes, and is also plays an important role in preventing the disease. Exercise is not only good for your mood; it is also excellent to prevent certain long-term complications of diabetes, more specifically, cardiovascular disease. Physical activity, paired with healthy changes in your diet, promotes the maintenance of a healthy weight or weight loss. The benefits of physical activity and the ensuing weight loss combine to make your body’s insulin more effective, which will lower your blood-sugar levels.

Here are a few other examples of benefits you can gain from exercise:

  • promotes a feeling of well-being;
  • improves the quality of your sleep;
  • lowers the levels of cholesterol in your blood;
  • extends your life expectancy.

The impact of exercise on blood sugar

When you exercise, your blood-sugar levels lower due to the increased effectiveness of your body’s insulin. The role of insulin is to facilitate the intake of glucose (sugar) by the cells, which use it as fuel. This decrease in blood sugar can last for up to 12 hours after you exercise. Exercising diligently leads to a normalisation of blood sugar, which can potentially lead to a reduction in medication. It is therefore possible that your doctor may suggest reducing the dosage of your medication, including insulin if you are taking it. In addition, practicing physical activity on a regular basis is enough to lower your what is known as glycosylated haemoglobin. Measured through blood tests, this is an estimation of your blood-sugar average during the last three months, and thus an acute reading of your level of diabetes management.

Exercise and type 1 diabetes

If you have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you must inject yourself with insulin every day. After intense exercise, your blood-sugar levels can get low enough for you to find yourself in a state of hypoglycemia. In fact, the fear of hypoglycemia often makes people with type 1 diabetes less willing to exercise, which is unfortunate. Truthfully, there is no reason to abstain from exercising if you are taking insulin; there are actually many excellent reasons why you should do it. You may simply have to adjust your insulin dosage or monitor your blood sugar more closely. Ask your pharmacist, your doctor or the health professional following your diabetes.

How to start an exercise program

Making significant changes to one’s lifestyle requires motivation and patience. It is up to you to find the most fun and effective ways to get back in shape. Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Talk to your doctor about your plans to start exercising more regularly. Ask for her or his advice by discussing your medical situation.
  • Start slowly and proceed gradually. This will allow you, among other things, to avoid injuries and to stay motivated. For example, you could start with a goal of 15 minutes three times a week, then increase the duration and frequency of your exercise sessions. Ideally, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, spread over at least five days.
  • Try to integrate exercise to your daily routine by taking your lifestyle and your professional and family responsibilities into consideration.
  • Choose physical activities that you enjoy and that are realistic in your situation.
  • Opt for physical activities that use both your muscles and your aerobic capacity, such as walking, running, swimming, cycling, etc. Walking, in particular, can be an interesting option since it is an accessible, easy and inexpensive activity that has proven beneficial to diabetics. You can also work on your muscles two or three times a week.
  • If you feel like it, consider joining a gym and even taking advantage of a professional trainer’s services.
  • Sign up for classes or group activities. This may allow you to meet interesting people and stay motivated.
  • If you prefer working out alone, there are countless exercise and dance DVDs of all kinds that you can use at home.

A few precautions to keep in mind

In order to avoid unfortunate incidents (discomfort, health issue, injury, etc.), it is important to follow certain precautionary measures. Here are some recommendations that you may find useful:

  • Check your blood sugar before and after exercising. This will allow you to see the beneficial effects of your workout, as well as preventing bouts of hypoglycemia that could occur, especially if you take medication that may cause them.
  • Drink plenty of water while you exercise to prevent dehydration and have a snack before you begin, if needed.
  • Stretch before you exercise to avoid injuries.
  • Set goals that correspond to your physical condition.
  • Don’t exceed your limits.
  • Wear comfortable shoes to reduce the risk of foot injuries.
  • Always wear a bracelet or card indicating that you have diabetes.
  • Avoid working out if you are sick or in extreme weather (too hot or too cold).

Exercise is beneficial to everyone, both on a physical level and a psychological level. It allows you to better manage stress, to improve your self-esteem and to enhance your overall quality of life. And if you have diabetes, the benefits of physical activity are even greater. Isn’t it reassuring to know that diabetes is a disease that can be successfully managed by mixing “business” and pleasure?

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