Exercise can help diabetics and those at risk of developing the disease

Glucose is the fuel necessary for essential body functions. It allows the brain to maintain awareness and provides energy for muscle activity.

Diabetes results from an inability to regulate normal glucose metabolism. Regular exercise plays an important role in making this metabolic process more efficient in healthy individuals, diabetics and especially those at risk for developing diabetes.

A basic diet includes starches, sugars and other nutrients. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, converts these nutrients into energy. Type 1 diabetes results from the body’s failure to produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes results from the body’s failure to properly use insulin.

Regular exercise helps people with diabetes in several ways:

• Weight loss will decrease the demand for insulin
• The body will become more sensitive to insulin
• Improved circulation will reduce the chance of harmful complications from diabetes.

Patients with a condition known as “pre-diabetes” typically have borderline high blood sugar and a family history of diabetes. These people have not yet required medication to lower their blood sugar and can often avoid the need for medication with diet and exercise.

As with any exercise program, consultation with a physician should be the first step.

“An effective exercise program should consist of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise along with three 30 minute sessions of resistive exercises over the course of a week,” said Dr. Leslie Domalik, an endocrinologist specializing in diabetes at the Backus Department of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism.

She advises that the workouts should be at least moderate in intensity although many of her healthier patients perform high intensity workouts for 90 of the recommended 150 minutes.

Typical aerobic workouts include walking, running, and cycling. Resistive workouts consist of weight lifting and using machines requiring motion against force. Resistive exercises should include both upper and lower body muscles.

When exercising, diabetics must be mindful of hydration and drink more fluids. Blood sugars should be checked before, during, and after a workout to avoid low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Regular exercise is imperative to promoting good health. It is an important tool in treating and potentially avoiding diabetes.

If you wish to learn more about exercise and diabetes, listen to the podcast at Norwich Bulletin or Backus Hospital.

Originally published January 8, 2008.

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