Diabetes and Exercise

 In medical exercise

Diabetes and Exercise

Diabetes is a condition that is very common throughout North America and due to an increasing sedentary lifestyle, coupled with poor nutrition, the number of people dealing with this condition is on the rise. For many people who embrace lifestyle changes and take control of their condition it is possible to live a long healthy life. Failure to take the steps needed to control diabetes usually results in a decline in function and development of additional health issues that further diminish peoples quality of life.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that effects the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein as a result of a lack of insulin. There are 2 types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. Most commonly Type 1 Diabetes occurs in juveniles, but occurs in adults as well and makes up 5-15% of all diabetics. Type 2 Diabetes is the most common diabetes affecting 90%-95% of the population.

Type 1 Diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system destroys insulin producing cells within the pancreas. This leads to a deficiency of insulin. The result of a lack of insulin is high blood sugar which can cause dehydration, weight loss and diabetic ketoacidosis (increased blood sugar, dehydration, acid buildup) which can be life threatening. It may also damage the nerves and small blood vessels of the eyes, kidneys and heart and lead to hardening of arteries that can cause a heart attack or stroke.[i]

People with Type 2 Diabetes are able to produce insulin but either the pancreas does not make enough or the body becomes insulin resistant. This can lead to damage to the nerves and small blood vessels of the eyes, kidneys, and heart and leads to hardening of the arteries that can cause heart attacks or strokes. [ii]

Risk Factors

  • Overweight: The more fatty tissue you have, especially in the abdominal area, the more resistant your cells become to insulin.
  • Inactivity: Exercise helps control weight and will use up glucose as a source of energy and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.
  • Age: The risk of diabetes increases as you get older, especially after age 45, although it can still occur in young people.
  • Family History: If Type 2 Diabetes runs in your family the risk of pre-diabetes increases.
  • Gestational Diabetes: If you developed diabetes when you were pregnant your risk of developing it later on in life increases.
  • Sleep: Recent studies have found a link between lack of sleep, or too much sleep to an increased risk of insulin resistance.
  • Other Medical Conditions Associated With Diabetes: These include hypertension, low levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and high levels of triglycerides in the blood.[iii]


Often pre-diabetes has no signs or symptoms. Type 2 Diabetes symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and blurred vision. If you are concerned about diabetes or notice any of the symptoms it is best to consult your doctor. You may wish to ask your doctor for a blood glucose screening if you have any of the risk factors in the above list. 

Diabetes Management

People with Type 1 Diabetes can live long, healthy lives, the key is to keep blood sugar levels within the target range. Nutrition is a key factor as well as exercise and insulin therapy. For people dealing with Type 1 Diabetes exercise can have an insulin like effect. When the muscles contract it stimulates a process within the body that allows the cells to take up glucose (blood sugar) for energy whether insulin is available or not. Exercise can lower your blood glucose by up to 24 hrs or more after a workout by making the body more sensitive to insulin.[iv]Type 2 Diabetes is typically associated with obesity, particularly abdominal obesity. People dealing with Type 2 Diabetes generally need to embrace lifestyle change in order to control their blood sugar and prevent damage to the kidneys, heart, eyes and circulatory system. This lifestyle change include nutrition, exercise and weight loss.

Exercise and Health Recommendations

  • 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 days per week
  • Ensure that you are on and maintain a proper nutrition plan.
  • A Registered Dietician is the ONLY nutrition professional qualified to provide meal plans.
  • Take Medication as needed
  • Always check blood glucose and blood pressure prior to exercise
  • Have a snack or juice nearby during exercise in case of significant drops in blood glucose
  • Check feet weekly for blisters (always wear proper footwear)
  • Work larger muscle groups
  • Long duration and low intensity
  • Perform low-impact activity (such as cycling or walking) 4-7 days per week
  • Resistance training 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions 2-3 days per week

Benefits of Exercise

Immediately Long-term
– Lowers your blood glucose within 1 hour – Improve you blood glucose control
– Improves mood, sleep and energy levels – Reduce body fat
– Increases effectiveness of insulin your body makes, or the insulin your doctor gives you – Helps keep your pancreas, kidneys, eyes and nerves healthy- Reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death


[i] http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/guide/diabetes-overview-facts

[ii] http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/guide/type-2-diabetes

[iii] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prediabetes/basics/risk-factors/con-20024420

[iv] http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/get-started-safely/blood-glucose-control-and-exercise.html

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