Exercise and Diabetes: What to Expect?

What can I expect from regular exercise and diabetes? 

If you have diabetes, no doubt you are aware of the need to exercise. Exercise is essential when it comes to boosting your physical and mental health.

If you have type 2 diabetes, the key to good health is to keep your blood pressure, lipids, blood glucose levels and weight in check.

When you exercise there is a whole cascade of events that get activated. These activations go on to impact your blood pressure, lipids, blood glucose levels and weight in various ways. So what do you need to know and by how much are these factors impacted?

1.Improved Blood Pressure 

You need to know: Regular aerobic exercise can decrease your systolic blood pressure by 4-8 mm Hg. This may seem like a small reduction but every little decrease matters in the long term! To put this number in perspective if you are prehypertensive at 128/89, through exercise you could potentially see your systolic blood pressure drop to 120/89.  Which brings you back to almost normal blood pressure.

The benefits to reducing your blood pressure include reducing the pressure on your blood vessels and decreasing your risk of diabetic vascular complications.

Did you know? Hypertension is a common occurrence amongst people with type 2 diabetes with 60% of individuals affected.

To learn more about what else you can do when it comes to hypertension check out this post by our Chief Medical Officer

2. Improve your Blood Glucose Levels 

You need to know: The reason why your blood glucose levels are likely to improve with exercise is due to the short and long term improvements to the action of insulin in your body. The more you exercise the more sensitive you become to insulin.  

Just a friendly reminder: insulin regulates the amount of glucose in your blood.

A combination of aerobic and strength training may be the most effective exercise strategy for improving blood glucose levels. It is not clear why this is the case, but either way the more exercise you can do the better, ideally with a combination of aerobic (150 minutes per week) and strength training (2 sessions per week).

Did you know? That independently of insulin, active muscle contractions are also capable of picking up glucose from the blood and are not impaired by insulin resistance or T2DM. Keep in mind this additional mechanism only works if your muscles are actively contracting, which means you need to be moving your body!

3. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugars below 4mmol/L)

You need to know: There is no need to let the fear of hypoglycaemia put you off exercising. People with T2DM that are not taking insulin or an insulin secretagogue (sulfonylureas and glinides) are unlikely to experience hypoglycaemia in relation to exercise. So if this is you, relax and embrace exercise. If you simply can’t relax, check your blood glucose levels before and after exercise. That way you can see the effect that exercise has on your blood glucose levels.

4. Improve your lipids

You need to know: Exercise has been show to decrease your LDL cholesterol slightly. However there is not any solid evidence that it will improve your HDL or triglyceride levels. With this in mind you may also want to consider weight loss and nutrition.

5. Weight Loss 

You need to know: When it comes to weight loss, you may need to be doing slightly more exercise than recommended for best health. It is estimated that at least 60-80 minutes on a daily basis is required to sustain weight loss or to prevent weight gain. Exercise alone has not been found to be an effective weight loss tool. Lucky it impacts on so many other important health factors!

Check out this post: Lost weight? Keep it off with the right amount of exercise

So now that you have a clearer idea of what exercise can do for you. Get walking!