I am now Pre-Diabetic or have been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. What does this mean for my physical activity?

by Jennifer L. Rice, August 3, 2018

Dr. Jennifer Rice

Being told you are pre-diabetic or being diagnosed with type II diabetes does not mean that it is too late for you to take control of your health. You can have a satisfying and fulfilling life while managing your diabetes. Even if you've never exercised before, you can find easy ways to add physical activity to your daily routine. Once physical activity is part of your daily routine, it's guaranteed you will feel better and wonder how you ever lived without it!

Type II diabetes is a condition where your pancreas is not making enough insulin, or the insulin your body is making isn't able to be utilized properly. Insulin is the hormone responsible for breaking down carbohydrates. An inability to break down carbohydrates results in elevated levels of glucose, or sugar, in your blood and urine. Pre-diabetes is when, your body starts showing higher than normal levels of glucose in your blood and urine but not high enough to be considered diabetic - yet. If not taken seriously, over time diabetes can lead to a litany of physical conditions such as heart and kidney problems, circulatory problems and vision deficits.

It is never too late to make a healthy lifestyle a priority and while eating a well-balanced diet is part of that paradigm for managing pre-diabetes and diabetes, so is getting your exercise on most days of the week. You don't have to be an athlete to enjoy the health benefits of exercise; taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking your vehicle farther away from the building is a terrific start to increasing your activity level.

Physical activity helps everyone:

  1. Lower their blood glucose and blood pressure levels
  2. Decrease HDL cholesterol and triglycerides levels
  3. Lower your risk for prediabetes, Type II diabetes, heart disease and stroke
  4. Relieve and manage stress, therefore boosting your energy and mood
  5. Strengthen your heart, muscles and bones
  6. Improve your blood circulation
  7. Tone your muscles
  8. Keeps your body and joints flexible

What kind of physical activity is best for me now that I've been diagnosed with Pre-Diabetes or Type II Diabetes? Any activity that you enjoy and commit to is the right physical activity for you. All healthy exercise routines should include cardiovascular or aerobic training, a flexibility program and strength training. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week. If you are new to physical activity start with 5-10 minutes and work your way up as you feel comfortable. It is also recommended to split up your activities.

For example, perform strength training 3 days a week and cardiovascular training on the other days.

Cardiovascular training makes your heart and bones stronger, assists in lowering stress and improves blood circulation. This is important for diabetes as there is an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. Physical activities such as walking, dancing, biking, swimming, and hiking are examples of cardiovascular training. Flexibility exercises involve stretching the muscles throughout the body that support the joints and lowers your risk of musculoskeletal injury. It is best to hold stretches for 10-20 seconds without bouncing. Gentle stretching for 5-10 minutes should be performed daily and can help your body warm up for another activity. Stretching is also beneficial after an activity as your body cools down. Strength training helps build strong bones and muscles and makes everyday activities like getting in and out of a chair easier. Another benefit of strength training is that with more muscle, you burn more calories, even at rest.  You can lift free weights, use resistance bands or join a fitness center to use strengthening equipment.

As with anyone new to exercise or physical activity, keep track of your progress and how your blood glucose level responds to each activity. When you exercise, your body needs extra energy from blood glucose. Therefore, check your blood sugar before and after every work out. Therefore you will know if you need to eat more or less carbohydrates prior to performing the activity. Always have a small carbohydrate snack, like fruit, and a stabilizing carbohydrate, such as a packet of crackers, on hand in case your blood sugar gets low. If you plan to exercise for longer than an hour, your muscles will use more blood glucose, therefore, you should check your blood sugar regularly throughout your workout. Beware that if you are performing intense exercise, your blood glucose levels may rise temporarily after you stop exercising. In that case you may need to modify your post workout snack accordingly.

Most importantly, hydrate! This rule goes for anyone performing a physical activity. It is not enough to drink water during and after you exercise but hydrate several hours before your activity. Especially if you are exercising in the heat! This will prevent a negative heat event such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

References:

  1. American Diabetes Association: diabetes.org
  2. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-2-diabetes#1

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