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Health 18 November 2017
By: Natasha Tanga

Why Active Lifestyle is Important for Treating Diabetes

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As a tribute to World Diabetes Day, our journal this week revolves around the importance of having a non-sedentary lifestyle to prevent and control existing diabetes. 

Healthy diet and exercise are likely as strong as any medication that can be prescribed for diabetes, and should be implemented as a habit. For people with diabetes and those at risk for diabetes, exercise may help manage weight, by improving blood sugar levels, and by improving heart health. Therefore, it is important to design a lifelong exercise routine that is both attainable and enjoyable. Walking is one of the easiest and most convenient options.

How important is exercise?

Leading a sedentary or inactive lifestyle is one of the major risk factors for developing diabetes, and the high percentage of obesity among people is also highly correlated with inactivity. By engaging in an active lifestyle, weight can be more controlled and consequently decrease the insulin resistance. Along with controlling what you eat, exercise is one of the first lines of defense in diabetes control. It is also a key tool in preventing one of the leading complications of diabetes which is cardiovascular disease. 

How does exercise benefit people with diabetes?

Firstly, exercise lowers blood sugar in two ways: it increases insulin sensitivity. This means that your cells are better able to use available insulin to absorb sugar from the bloodstream to be used as energy for your body. Exercise stimulates another mechanism that allows your muscles to absorb and use sugar for energy, even without insulin.

Furthermore, the long lists of benefits also include:

• Weight loss with reduced body fat and more toned muscles

• A healthier heart and lower blood pressure

• Improved cholesterol, heart rate, and blood pressure levels

• Lower stress, anxiety, boredom, frustration and depression

• Increased energy and endurance throughout the day

• Better immune system and resistance to illness

What kind of exercise should be done?

1. Aerobic Exercise

This exercise is done by using your arms and/or legs in a continuous, rhythmic movement in order to increase your heart rate. Examples include running, dancing, biking, swimming and walking. Be sure to pick an aerobic exercise that you enjoy and set realistic goals.

2. Strength Training

Strength training or resistance training makes your body more sensitive to insulin and can lower blood sugar. Examples of strength training include using weight machines, free weights and resistance bands, and doing body weight exercises such as push-ups, lunges and sit-ups.

How much exercise is needed?

At least two and a half hours of moderate intensity physical activity per week and two to three sessions of resistance exercise per week is recommended. Keep in mind that it is also not recommended to skip two days in a row without physical activity as it will disrupt your metabolic cycle.

Are there any precautions to look out for?

Consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program just to be sure that it is medically safe for you to exercise. Once you’ve gotten the approval, follow these tips to stay safe:

1. Keep track of your blood sugar level pre and post-exercise 

Exercise can lower blood sugar suddenly, but in the case of strength training, it may increase blood sugar levels. Be sure to monitor blood sugar levels before and after all exercise routines to better understand how your body responds to exercise and to prevent any severe complications.

2. Stay hydrated 

Drinking water before, during, and after exercise is important for reducing your risk of dehydration associated with erratic blood sugars and heat stroke.

3. Warm up and cool down. 

Do a warm up of 5 to 10 minutes of aerobic activity (walking, jogging, etc.) at a low-intensity level and gentle stretching for an additional 5 to 10 minutes before doing your exercise. The cool down should also last 5 to 10 minutes until heart rate has returned to pre-exercise levels.

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