By Charlie G ❘ 2012

aerobic exercise for diabetes

As you already probably know, exercise is one of the 3 main pillars to control and treat diabetes (the other two being the diet and insulin or other meds, depending on each case). While physicians generally consider insulin/meds as the most important pillar, alternative approaches to deal with diabetes stress the right diet and regular exercise.

It always shocks me to hear people say, after years of having been diagnosed with diabetes, that they do not exercise regularly because no one ever explained to them how important this is to manage blood sugar levels and health in general. My explanation is that either doctors trust in drugs too much and recommend them too often or these people with diabetes didn’t want to hear the part about the importance of exercise when their doctor explained it to them.

But that much is clear: Exercise is so important for diabetics, that docs should ask about it every time a patient visits him/her.

If you don’t have diabetes but are at risk (because of family history or other causes), you should know that increasing your physical activity can slow the progression of prediabetes and even prevent type 2 diabetes (New England Journal of Medicine 344 – 2001).

How does exercise help diabetes?

  • It improves blood pressure (hypertension), blood sugar control, triglycerides and insulin sensitivity.
  • It helps to lose weight.
  • Exercise reduces “bad” cholesterol and raises “good” cholesterol.
  • It helps clear away the increase of acids from sugar metabolism, which otherwise could develop some serious problems to different tissues.
  • It decreases cardiovascular risk factors (especially knowing that people with diabetes have a much higher risk of heart problems and even heart attacks).
  • Sport and even relaxed exercises improve your mood and decrease stress and depression.
  • It helps your body gain strength and flexibility.
  • It lowers the need for medication, due to the improved glucose tolerance.
  • Sport boosts your immune system and moves yeast, viruses and bacteria out of the tissues.
  • It improves symptoms of osteoporosis and eases arthritis pain.
  • Exercise diminishes insomnia.
  • It improves your memory and prevents Alzheimer’s disease.
  • It can even protect you against some forms of cancer.

I guess by now I’ve got your attention, haven’t I? 😉

As you see, there are plenty of good reasons why anyone, but especially people with diabetes, should exercise regularly.

But not all kind of sports are appropriate for diabetics…


Best exercise for diabetics

The rule of thumb here is to avoid the popular “no pain, no gain” philosophy. Actually, the last 3 books that I’ve read about this topic (how to treat diabetes in general, but with special chapters dedicated to the importance of exercise) agree on one thing: people with diabetes should practice aerobic exercise.

But first, let me explain why anaerobic exercise is not appropriate.

The word anaerobic literally means “without oxygen”, that is, when you exercise to the point where you gasp for oxygen. This lack of oxygen leads to increased acidity and blood sugar levels and, therefore, stresses the pancreas. (Note: I guess this is why I was experiencing high blood sugar after exercising although my blood sugar level had been ok just before the activity. No matter what I did: I tried eating a snack before exercising, eating less, eating more, eating nothing… I’ve recently changed to slower forms of exercising and my blood sugar levels are better afterwards.)

Some might have wondered how on earth it is possible to gain weight if you exercise. The reason for this is that without enough oxygen, the body is taken into self-preservation mode, producing cholesterol and holding fat to bind acids. This way, you burn sugar instead of fat for energy.

Some anaerobic exercises are weight lifting, push-ups, chin-ups, sit-ups, slow running and uphill cycling – always depending on how you perform some of exercises, of course.

One of the best ways to know if you are doing aerobic or anaerobic exercise is if you can have a conversation with someone while exercising. With the aerobic form of activity you can talk without having to gasp for oxygen.

You are burning sugar for energy (anaerobic sport) when…

  • you can’t keep a conversation while exercising
  • you feel light-headed / dizzy
  • your extremities (hands or feet) tingle, are cold or seem to be burning
  • you inhale and exhale through your mouth instead of your nose
  • your muscles are tight
  • you have a knot in your throat
  • your sweat smells like ammonia
  • your peripheral vision narrows
  • you feel a localized pain

You are burning fat for energy (aerobic sport) when…

  • you can keep a conversation while exercising
  • you have clear thinking
  • you breath through the nose quietly and easily
  • you have more flexibility
  • you have a feeling of euphory or at least feel peaceful and grounded
  • you have relaxed facial expressions
  • you feel no pain

cross-training machineThe most recommended types of exercise for diabetes are walkingslow joggingswimmingcross-training machinesreboundingyoga/pilates and some types of weight training (such as with high intensity but low force, small numbers of very slow repetitions, using modest amounts of weight or resistance).

You should at least do 20-30 minutes a day of activity, at least 3-4 days a week. Remember that burning energy is cumulative, that is, you don’t need to do it all at once. If you walk 5 times a day for 10 minutes, you can consider that you did 50 minutes of exercise that day.

A good way to enjoy exercising is doing the kind of sport you like or do something you like during the activity (there’s a lot you can do with an mp3 player: listening to music, podcasts about your industry or hobbies, learning a language, listening audio-books…). This way you’re not only doing something for your health, but also learning something new at the same time. But you can also just enjoy the exercise without doing anything else!

Finally, it is recommended to consult your doctor before starting a new activity program.

Now it’s your turn: Do you have any good/bad experiences while exercising? Did you find a way to do it better and achieve better results?

By sharing your experience, you may help other people solve that same problem or situation faster. Thanks!

I would also appreciate if you share this article with your friends in Facebook, Twitter & Co. Let us improve the health of the people together!


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