Diabetes is a condition relating to your body’s use of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that facilitates the absorption of glucose (sugar) by your cells. In short, with Type II diabetes, either your pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or your cells aren’t putting it to use. Glucose is essentially fuel for cells, so without it they literally starve.
At the same time, vital organs and tissues suffer damage from the overabundance of unused glucose in your blood stream (high blood sugar).
Think of it this way: Your cells are craving glucose but they don’t realize it’s there. (They’re either not responding to insulin released by the pancreas, or there’s simply not enough insulin produced.) So your body sends for more glucose, and since your cells aren’t absorbing it, it keeps piling up. This buildup can damage your vital organs and tissues, especially your kidneys, heart, nerves, and eyes.
Because the primary cause of unregulated blood sugar is an improper response to insulin, treatment often consists of medications that center on either improving the cells’ insulin sensitivity or increasing the amount of insulin available to the body.
Diet and exercise have a major impact on your body’s use of insulin, and are as important as medical treatment.
The kind of food you eat has a direct effect on the levels of sugar in your blood stream. The quantity and type of sugars you consume are directly related to whether your blood sugar stays at acceptable levels and for how long.
Exercise decreases cells’ resistance to insulin, and thus improves their ability to absorb glucose. This is makes exercise a wonderful addition to the natural treatment of type II diabetes.
By naturally improving your body’s response to insulin, it may be possible to reduce or even eliminate your dependence on oral medications or insulin injections. Exercise also greatly reduces the risk of long-term complications from diabetes (heart disease, kidney damage, vision loss) while helping you feel your best, physically and mentally.
Some Considerations Before Starting an Exercise Routine for Diabetics:
Consult your physician. Your doctor is familiar with your unique needs, and the details of your condition. He/she can give you the best advice when it comes to the type of exercise that would be best suited for your situation. Also, your doctor can help you anticipate any effects your medications may have in conjunction with your exercise routine, and whether or not adjusting your dose of insulin/meds prior to workouts is appropriate.
Monitor your blood sugar. Check it before, during (every half-hour), and immediately after. Also, be aware, that your blood sugar will likely be affected for hours after a workout. So it is prudent to check it frequently after you have exercised, especially if this is new for you. It is important to learn how your body’s response to insulin is uniquely affected by increased physical activity. If you feel any symptoms of hypoglycemia* or hyperglycemia**, check your blood sugar and treat as specified by your physician. KEEP A LOG of your results, so you can establish any patterns and to help your physician make medication adjustments as necessary.
* Blood sugar 70 or less. Symptoms can include: confusion, shakiness, weakness, changes in vision, tremors, headache, anxiety, excessive perspiration, heart palpitations, or hunger. Seizures, or loss of consciousness are a possibility, but thankfully aren’t common. A general rule of thumb is that if your sugar is less than 100 before working out, eat a small carbohydrate-containing snack before you begin.
** Signs and symptoms include: frequent urination, dry mouth or excessive thirst, visual disturbances, fatigue, weakness, nausea. If you experience any of these symptoms, check your blood glucose level and address per your doctor’s orders.
Use proper precautions. Of course, by consulting with your physician, you both can come up with an exercise plan that will suit your individual needs and avoid possible complications. For example, low impact activities such as swimming or biking may be more suitable for those who already have nerve damage related to their diabetes. A physician can help determine which exercises are most appropriate for you.
Also, wear sensible shoes to avoid injury to your feet, because diabetes affects not only the circulation in your extremities, but also increases the risk of infection should your foot suffer any injury.
If you take insulin, avoid giving yourself injections in the extremities that you’re likely to be using during exercise; instead, try the abdomen or buttocks.
Use the buddy system! Have someone around to not only encourage your new healthy lifestyle, but to be there in case you suffer any sudden complications. If not, wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace during workouts, just in case.
Make sure that you eat a snack if your blood sugar is too low before you exercise, and always have a snack readily available during your workout, just in case your sugar starts dropping too much. If you plan on a longer workout, consider having juice or gatorade to drink instead of water to stay hydrated, and to ensure that your sugar stays at an acceptable level.
Adhere to a healthy diet plan that will support your physical activity. Generally, simple sugars are good for a quick boost in blood sugar, but don’t last very long. Before your workout, make sure you have eaten foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole wheat pasta, and include proteins which provide a longer-lasting source of energy. Eating properly before exercising will help prevent hypoglycemia.
By including regular exercise as part of a strategy to manage your type II diabetes, you are not only taking control over your general well-being, but you are also improving your chances of minimizing the long-term affects of this condition. Your quality of life is certainly worth the effort. By taking proper precautions and consulting with your physician, the experience can be both safe and rewarding. Good Luck!