Diabetes and Exercise
Diabetes Mellitus, commonly just known as diabetes, is a condition in which the body has the inability to convert sugars (glucose) in the blood into energy.
Having high levels of glucose in the blood affects the function of the pancreas, which is responsible for creating and releasing a hormone called insulin. Diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce the amount of insulin required to clear the glucose, or when the body has grown resistant to the inulin it is producing.
There are 3 main types of diabetes, all of which are complex and serious: Type 1 Diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes, Gestational Diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
T1DM is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks and destroys the beta cells in the pancreas – the cells that produce insulin. This means that there is no insulin in the body and insulin injections are required.
The onset of T1DM is generally earlier in life, with most having a diagnosis before the age of 30. In children, the onset is abrupt with symptoms being quick and obvious. In adults, the onset can be slower but is just as threatening.
It is unknown what causes T1DM, but it is not linked to any modifiable lifestyle factors. Environmental factors, such as exposure to certain viruses, and genetics are thought to be the main precursor to the disease. There is no cure to T1DM and it cannot be prevented. T1DM is a lifelong condition.
Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM)
T2DM is a progressive disease, in which the body gradually becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin. Over time, the pancreas loses its effectiveness to produce and release the required amount of insulin to clear the glucose. The inefficiency of the pancreas’ insulin production leads to an imbalance of blood glucose and insulin in the blood stream and can eventually result in insulin resistance.
As well as modifiable lifestyle risk factors, there is also a strong genetic link associated with T2DM.
T2DM can initially be managed with lifestyle and diet modification, including regular physical activity. Over time, many people may eventually need medications to manage their diabetes, or those with more advanced disease progression may also require insulin injections.
Gestational Diabetes (GDM)
Gestational Diabetes (GDM) is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. In pregnancy, the placenta produces certain hormones that provide nutrition for the growing baby. While these hormones are essential for the baby, they can also block or reduce the effectiveness of the mothers own insulin production. This is called insulin resistance. Because of this, the glucose levels rise and GDM develops.
Once the pregnancy is over the blood glucose levels usually return to normal and the GDM disappears. Those who experience GDM during their pregnancy have a higher risk of developing T2DM later in life.
If left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health complications affecting the heart, kidneys, nerves and eyes. These complications develop gradually and will worsen over time with consistently uncontrolled blood sugars. Complications can become disabling or life-threatening if not treated appropriately. Some of the common complications include:
– Cardiac: most commonly heart attack, stroke
– Nerve damage (neuropathy) – leads to tingling, burning or numbness, mainly in the legs
– Kidney damage (nephropathy) – also known as kidney disease
– Foot problems – nerve damage can lead to amputation in serious cases
– Eye problems (retinopathy) – affects eyesight and can lead to blindness
Exercise for Diabetes
Physical activity is undoubtfully one of the best forms of medicine we can give to our bodies for overall health. Exercise is well known for helping many things including controlling weight, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, strengthening muscles and bones, boosting mood and improving general well-being. For people with diabetes, exercise also has an added benefit of lowering blood glucose levels and increasing the bodies insulin sensitivity.
When you exercise, muscles use glucose from the blood as energy to fuel muscle contractions. The more movement you do, the more glucose is taken from the blood and ultimately, over time, this leads to lower blood glucose readings.
All forms of exercise have been proven to lower blood glucose levels including walking, running and bike riding. However regular resistance training has been proven to result in lowering and maintaining a more stable glucose profile.
As people with diabetes are at risk of other health complications such as heart and foot disease and nerve damage, it is important that your exercise is right for you. Exercise Physiologists are trained in the prescription of exercise for people with diabetes and can safely develop and administer an exercise program that is suitable for you.
If you are considering exercise to help with your diabetes management, talk to your GP to find out whether or not an exercise program could be suitable for you. Alternatively, you can call our clinic directly to find out more and book your initial appointment.