Exercise: A Great Treatment for Diabetes

Posted Oct 8, 2022

Did you know that exercise may help reduce the amount of insulin or oral medication people with diabetes take?  Or that it might even reverse diabetes?  It’s true. Diabetes Awareness Month is a good time to consider how exercise can help you or a family member who is dealing with this condition and even those who don’t have diabetes.

Diabetes is a medical condition characterized by elevated blood sugar levels that must be monitored daily. Lifestyle factors like lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, unhealthy weight, alcohol intake, and smoking can affect the glucose levels in your bloodstream. Lifestyle factors can also affect your stress response and even sleep habits. Each of these factors contributes to the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. You should pay attention to them all because they not only affect your diabetes but your overall health and well-being. 

Consider stress, for example. When you experience physical, mental or emotional stress, your body is flooded with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This duo tells your body to release more glucose into the bloodstream for extra energy to take on the threat you are facing. Although a person without diabetes may recover quickly from this glucose surge, someone who has diabetes may take much longer to recover because the cells in their body can’t use the glucose for energy. 

Adding to this, the constant state of stress leads to poorer decision making, such as impulsive eating, excessive alcohol consumption, and incessant scrolling of social media feeds, to name just a few. Each of these decisions can interfere with restorative and restful sleep, which leads to even more adrenaline and cortisol released into your bloodstream and tells your body to release even more glucose. And that impulsive eating (often accompanied by an unhealthy diet) combined with too little sleep can cause unwanted weight gain, another landmine you want to avoid.

Chronically high blood sugar levels cause damage to many organs in your body, including leaky blood vessels in your eyes (diabetic retinopathy), damaged nerves (neuropathy), and a whole lot more. Even though stress has enough troubles on its own, your body’s internal stress response can lead to other unhealthy decisions that increase your stress-related hormones and the cycle begins all over again.

Is there anything that could possibly end this seemingly never-ending cycle?   The answer is a giant “YES!”  Exercise is one of the best ways the human body metabolizes and uses up the glucose in your bloodstream. Movement, particularly repetitive movements of exercise, creates a sense of calm for the brain, temporarily alleviates worries, and helps you to be present and focus on what your body is doing. Stress hormones are less likely to flood your body. Instead, you get dopamine and endorphins that help the body to relax and feel good.   

And there’s more! Exercise reduces your risk of insulin overload. Cells burn stored glucose and have space to take up glucose rather than letting it remain in the bloodstream. Steady, low-impact cardio performed over a longer period increases insulin sensitivity, as does resistance training. You can lift appropriate weights or use your own body for resistance. Muscles have insulin receptors that allow glucose to enter. Add resistance training to your exercise routine at least twice a week to build lean body mass. The more muscle you have, the more insulin receptors you gain, which allow more glucose to be removed from the bloodstream. Exercise also increases your blood flow, which allows oxygen and nutrients to get to your body’s cells more quickly and efficiently. When cells get the nutrition they need, damage to the nerves, blood vessels and heart is reduced. 

Anyone – whether with diabetes, prediabetes or no diabetes – can reap the benefits of a well-rounded fitness program. Be sure to ease into it if you haven’t worked out in a long time. Start slowly and gradually build up your time and intensity. Talk with your doctor and trainer to help you decide what exercise program is right for you.

We will customize a program based on your medical history and current fitness levels to be sure it’s both doable and fun. After you get the green light from your doctor, come see our experienced exercise physiologists at WK Fitness & Wellness Centers. We're here to cheer you on!