Blood Sugar and Exercise
With so many resources at the touch of a button, it’s often hard to sift through the credible information and the junk. Learning about how to control or even improve your type 2 diabetes is no exception to this rule can be really confusing! This article is meant to serve as a simple guideline and resource on how exercise can influence your numbers for the better. Keep in mind that sound nutrition plays a very large role in control and maintenance as well and if you have any questions regarding this, talk to your Wellview health coach and request a session with our awesome diabetes educator, Sherree!
Let’s start with the basics. What is type 2 diabetes? The definition from the American Diabetes Association is a metabolic problem that “causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal because your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for this sugar rise but, over time, it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough to keep your values at normal levels.” Changes to your diet and exercise can make a huge impact on these values and whether you have to progress to medications or not. If they are needed, your doctor may start you on an oral medication to help regulate your values and depending on the effectiveness, you may progress to insulin injections to provide your body with what your pancreas can no longer do on its own.
On the positive side, while these medications provide the insulin needed to control your blood sugar, exercise acts in a very similar fashion (like a key to a door) to aid in “unlocking” your cells and allow the circulating glucose (blood sugar) to be used for energy. Good news right? Well here’s some other good news. Exercise not only helps with improving your glucose tolerance and increased insulin sensitivity, it can also aid in decreasing your HbA1C values (a measure taken to look at your blood glucose average over a 2 to 3-month period). So what do you do with this information? Below are guidelines to help you get started as well as some safety tips to remember.
Guidelines for Type 2 Diabetes from the American College of Sports Medicine:
- Aim for cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging, swimming, biking, etc.) a minimum of 3-7 days per week
- Aim for 20-60 minutes of continuous activity or at least 10 minute spurts totaling the 20-60 minutes per day. A weekly total should be 150 minutes with additional benefits seen from 300 minutes per week.
- Emphasize activities that use large muscle groups in a rhythmic and continuous fashion (again think walking, swimming, group exercise class, etc.)
- Strength training is encouraged as long as there are no contraindications. Check with your doctor before beginning a strength training program. If you have the all clear, you should aim for the following:
- 2-3 days per week
- 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions at 60 %to 80 % of your 1 repetition max (maximum amount of weight that you can lift in one rep)
- 8-10 total exercises that target each of the major muscle groups.
Precautions to Take While Exercising
- Monitoring your blood sugar both pre and post exercise when beginning an exercise program or making changes to your existing program can help to ensure that you do not have a bout of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
- Talk to your doctor about the timing of your medication or insulin injections with regards to exercise. If taken too close to your workout, you may risk a hypoglycemic episode since the exercise works in the same fashion as the medication on blood sugar.
- Do not place an insulin injection into the muscle group that you are planning on working out for the same reason as above.
- Exercise with a partner or under supervision to reduce the risk of a hypoglycemic event.
- With hyperglycemia (high blood sugar values), dehydration may occur due to polyuria (increased urination) which can affect your thermoregulatory system. Simply put, you may be more sensitive to heat and heat illness. Make sure to drink plenty of water and pay attention to how you are feeling. Opt to exercise in cooler parts of the day or indoors if possible.
- If you suffer from peripheral neuropathy, make sure to wear polyester or blend socks and comfortable, cushioned workout shoes while exercising. It is also important to keep feet dry throughout the day and after a workout rather than staying in damp socks.
- If you have retinopathy, you should avoid vigorous intensity exercise and resistance training due to the potential of dramatically elevated blood pressure.
– LAUREN ORMSBEE, MS, CEP, CHC
ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 8th Ed. 2010; pps. 232-237.