A simple guide to Exercise with Diabetes

A Diabetes diagnosis can be scary. There is lot’s to do and learn about your condition. There is a lot of great research to show that Type 2 Diabetes can be managed with lifestyle – diet and exercise – and best practice includes the triad of exercise, diet and medication. Our exercise physiologist Jacci he here to shine some light on how and why exercise is included in the treatment of diabetes.

A simple guide to Exercise with Diabetes - Diabetes

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that is characterized by insulin resistance or lack of insulin production. Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the cells in the pancreas that produces insulin start to attack themselves, leading to a reduction, even cessation of insulin in the bloodstream.

Type 2 Diabetes is a lifestyle disease, meaning that the choices we make on a daily basis, such as what we eat and how much we exercise impacts the risk of developing it. For type 2 diabetics, the insulin receptors on each cell don’t recognize insulin, showing an “insulin resistance”. Glucose again remains in the bloodstream and cannot enter the cell. When there is no insulin to allow glucose to be let into all of the cells in the body, the cells cannot produce energy to survive, leading to death.

So what does exercise have to do with this? How does exercise help in the management of diabetes?

Here is a simple look at what happens.

In a healthy body, glucose is allowed into the cells by insulin binding to the insulin receptor,
like a key in a lock. For the insulin resistant type 2 diabetic, the insulin receptor doesn’t recognize insulin, so like the wrong key, it cannot unlock the cell to let the glucose in. When this happens, glucose in the bloodstream (usually due to what we have eaten) travels around the body, again and again, causing damage to the small blood vessels in our eyes, kidneys, feet, toes, hands and other organs. This can lead to severe complications if left
unchecked. What exercise does is it increases the sensitivity of the insulin receptors, and allows other pathways to be utilized as well. It’s like a master key that unlocks every possible door for glucose to be allowed into the cell to use used for energy.

When discussing this face to face with my clients, I like to use what I call “The Night Club” Analogy.

Think of it this way – The Cell is a Nightclub. To get into the nightclub, you have to get past the doorman or the insulin receptor. Glucose is lined up outside, waiting and wanting to get in.

I describe glucose as young men, wanting to get into the club to have a few drinks. The thing that everyone knows is it’s a lot easier to get into the club when you have some insulin (or a few girls in your group). So when there is a good balance of insulin and glucose, The Cell doors open and everyone goes inside.

What happens to the diabetic person is there is either no insulin (type 1 diabetes) or there is simply far too much glucose both inside and outside the cell that no matter how much insulin is around, no glucose will get into the cell. The glucose (or the young men in this case) travels around looking for somewhere else to go. In the small, dark back streets, they can start vandalizing and damaging property (the walls of your small blood vessels. Then Exercise comes along. Exercise is the friend who can sneak you into the club through the back door. You don’t even need insulin! The more exercise, the more glucose gets let into
the cells. Exercise is the kind of friend everyone wants to have.

Top Exercise Tips for Type 2 Diabetes

So now, you are inspired to get started. It’s quite likely that the question you’re asking is “how do I start”. Here are my top tips to get you started.

1. Start by speaking to your GP. While exercise is safe for Diabetics to participate in, your fitness journey is best started by checking in with your regular General Practitioner. Here, you can have your HbA1c (3 month Blood Sugar level) recorded, and medications arranged or adjusted, and any other concerns addressed. Also, they will want to know so they can help in any way they can.

2. Get expert advice. Especially if you have never exercised before. The best people to speak with are Health Professionals called Exercise physiologists. These are University Qualified Exercise Professionals specifically trained to prescribe exercise for complex and chronic conditions, including Diabetes. Not only can they show you the exercises, but they can provide ongoing support, updating your exercise program and helping you reach your goals in the safest and most effective way

3. Set a goal! Starting to exercise can be hard. Sticking with it can be harder. Often people will give up and slip back into old habits. To keep you inspired on your journey, set clear goals on what you want to achieve. Imagine what it will feel like when you achieve that goal. What does it look like? Write this goal down. Review it every day and make time to take the necessary actions every day.

4.Find something you love doing. Exercise is supposed to be fun and can be done in many different ways. It doesn’t have to be done in a gym, or for hours and hours every day. The first step is to make a list of all of the exercises or physical activity you’d like to try or enjoy to do. This is especially helpful to your Exercise Physiologist.

5. Ease into it! There are a few things to be aware of when starting a new exercise program even if you aren’t diabetic. No one expects you to run a marathon after your first week, or ever! Start with something as simple as a daily 10-minute walk, gradually working your way up to 30 minutes a day. If walking is too hard, start with a gentle swim.

6. Be prepared! Carry a small amount of carbohydrates with you when you’re exercising, in case your blood sugar gets low. It’s also a good idea to keep your blood glucose monitor at hand and let someone know you’re exercising.

7. Mix it up! Do a variety of types of exercise. Exercise guidelines recommend at least two strength training sessions each week. You don’t need to join a gym to strength train, and the benefits for diabetics are undeniable.

8. Stay Hydrated. Drink water before, during and after exercise. We’re supposed to drink 2-3L
of water every day!!

9. Look after your feet. Check your feet daily and note any changes. Due to the damage that high blood sugar does to your small blood vessels in your toes, feet, eyes and kidneys, leaving wounds, cuts and blisters unattended can lead to some pretty nasty ulcerations. Wear good quality sports shoes when exercising and have your feet regularly checked by your podiatrist.

10. stop if something suddenly hurts, you feel dizzy or unwell. If you’ve injured yourself,
you’re best to stop, and if you’re feeling unwell, check your blood glucose levels asap.

What are the benefits of Exercise?

There are many benefits to being physically active. Not just for people with diabetes, but for everyone! Just a few of these are:
• Improved Insulin response
• Weight loss/maintenance
• Lower blood pressure
• Reduced risk of developing heart disease
• Reduced risk of developing cancer
• Management of stress, anxiety and depression
• Management and treatment of chronic pain
• Stronger muscles and bones
• Reduced risk of osteoporosis
• Better posture
• Improved fitness
• Improved sleep quality
• More energy
• And much, much more

If you have Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes and need help with getting started with exercise, Jacci, our exercise physiologist is able to help!  Book online NOW.

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