Exercise and Type II Diabetes
The incidence of
type 2 diabetes is on the rise, which experts largely attribute to
the rise in
obesity. According to the American Diabetes Association, the number of Americans with
diabetes is expected to increase to more than 30 million by 2030. Type 2 diabetes, responsible
for more than 90 percent of diabetes cases, is more common in adults, although an increase in
childhood obesity may be the reason more young children are being diagnosed with the
disease. The good news is that simple lifestyle changes can prevent and, in some cases,
reverse the course of this disease.
Type 2 Diabetes Explained
Type 2 diabetes affects the body’s ability to use sugars, starches, fats and proteins. Your body
needs various fuels for energy and this disease disrupts normal energy metabolism both at rest
and during physical exercise.
Our bodies normally change sugars and starches into a usable form called glucose. Glucose is
carried by the blood to various tissues, such as skeletal muscle. Insulin (a hormone made by
the pancreas) must be present for glucose to enter skeletal muscle. Once glucose enters the
muscle cell, it can be broken down and used for energy or stored for later use.
With type 2 diabetes, some insulin is produced but the body does not make effective use of it.
This is known as insulin resistance and it prohibits glucose from entering the muscle cells. In
turn, glucose rises to abnormal levels in the blood. If unchecked for extended periods, elevated
glucose levels lead to heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and nerve dysfunction.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, which appears to be an autoimmune disease, type 2 diabetes is strongly
linked to lifestyle factors, especially diet and exercise. People at highest risk of developing type
2 diabetes have a family history, as well as other cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood
pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. However, the same techniques
that are used for prevention of this disease—a healthy diet and regular exercise—can be used
to control and possibly reverse its progression.
Exercise Can Help
The latest research has put exercise at the forefront in the prevention, control and treatment of
diabetes because it decreases insulin resistance. Following regular exercise training, cells can
better respond to insulin and appropriately take up glucose out of the blood.
Exercise also helps to decrease risk of cardiovascular disease by decreasing blood pressure,
cholesterol levels and body fat. And for every 10 pounds of weight an individual loses, they will
experience a 20 percent improvement in insulin sensitivity.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you should follow the following exercise guidelines:
Cardiovascular: Aim for three to four days per week of moderate-intensity exercise for 20 to 60
minutes (walking and other non-weightbearing activities such as water aerobics and cycling are
good choices). Daily exercise, however, is highly recommended.
Resistance training: Follow a lower-resistance, lower-intensity program with one set of exercises
for the major muscle groups, with 10 to 15 repetitions at least two days per week.
Flexibility: At least two to three days per week, stretch major muscle groups to the point of
tightness (not pain) for 15 to 30 seconds two to four times per stretch.
The ultimate goal is to expend a minimum of 1,000 calories per week with physical activity for
health benefits, or 2,000 calories per week for weight loss. Keep in mind that these are goals
that you should work up to gradually over time.
What are the Precautions?
If you have type 2 diabetes, you must monitor your glucose before and after exercise to
understand how you respond to certain types of activities. Be sure to wear an ID bracelet that
indicates your diabetic condition and, whenever possible, exercise with a partner.
Finally, don’t forget to check with your physician prior to beginning a physical activity program
and return regularly to assess the diabetic complications. If complications of the eye, kidney or
heart are present, your physician should provide you with clear boundaries regarding the
intensity of any physical activity.