How exercise improves blood glucose control

According to the American, Canadian and South African Diabetes guidelines, both endurance (150 minutes per week) and resistance exercise (performed 2 or 3 times per week) should be recommended for most people with diabetes. Walking is often the most popular and most feasible type of endurance exercise in overweight middle-aged, and elderly people with diabetes. For those who struggle with pain upon walking, recumbent cycling or swimming may be an option.

Health benefits of being physically active

Strong evidence confirms that individuals who are active daily live longer and have a greater sense of wellbeing. Regular activity can prevent or help manage diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, and may play a role in preventing certain cancers.

Furthermore, regular physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight, lower blood glucose levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and reduce the amount of chronic medications you have to take. In addition, it can strengthen your bones and improve your sleep.

Exercise improves blood glucose control in diabetes

Regular exercise is an important part of managing adult Type 2 diabetes. Numerous theories exist as to how exercise may improve blood glucose control. However, the most convincing theory is muscle and liver glycogen (stored glucose) usage and replenishment during and following exercise. During exercise, the body will utilise blood glucose, liver and muscle glycogen as an energy source.

Following exercise, the liver and muscle cells draw glucose out of the blood (where it is potentially dangerous when high), and draw it into the muscle and liver where it is used for energy, or stored. This process effectively treats one’s diabetes and can lower blood glucose levels for up to 48 hours.

Choosing the correct activities is vital to achieve the best possible health outcome

There are generally two modes of exercise that people can participate in:

• Endurance exercise such as walking, cycling, jogging and swimming. These activities involve low intensity exercise carried out continuously for a long period. Endurance exercise will improve your circulation, strengthen your heart, and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

• Resistance or interval type exercise, which involves a higher intensity type of exercise, carried out in short bursts with rest intervals, such as resistance training circuits or most types forball sports. Resistance exercise may involve the use of weights, weight machines or resistance bands.

Resistance exercise improves muscle strength, endurance, muscle mass and tone, and protects your joints from injury. It aids in weight maintenance, balance and bone strength.

Which type of exercise is best to improve blood glucose control?

Studies suggest that any exercise, whether it is endurance or resistance, performed at the right intensity and in combination with a lower calorie intake, will reduce abdominal and overall fat percentage, lower body weight, improve blood glucose levels, and may lower overall HBA1c%3.

However, studies in exercise and Type 2 diabetes suggest that the combination of endurance and resistance exercise is more effective at reducing HBA1c% than either endurance or resistance exercise alone.

01 February 2021

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