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How Exercise Affects Blood Sugar and Heals Diabetes

Exercise is vital in achieving and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Regular physical activity contributes nearly countless positive effects on your health, especially for those with diabetes. Included below are just a few of these benefits:

  • Helps your body make the best use of insulin and glucose, which controls blood sugar more effectively
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Raises “good” HDL cholesterol and lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol
  • Builds muscle
  • Reduces risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Burns extra body fat
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Strengthens muscles and bones
  • Increases energy and reduces stress
  • Can lower blood glucose levels for up to 24 hours or longer after your workout by increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin

When you exercise, your body needs more fuel, which it draws from glucose. For short, intense workouts, glucose is released by the muscles and liver to immediately fuel your activity. For longer, moderate exercise, your muscles absorb glucose at up to 20 times the normal rate! This lowers the level of glucose in your blood (blood sugar).

Exercise increases your insulin sensitivity, so your cells are able to make better use of any present insulin and glucose in your body. When your muscles contract during exercise, it stimulates a mechanism allowing your cells to metabolize the glucose in your blood whether insulin is present or not.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the recommended amount of exercise to help control diabetes is “at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity (50 – 70% of maximum heart rate) or at least 90 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise (more than 70% of maximum heart rate).” It is also recommended to exercise at least 3 days a week, and not go more than 2 days in a row without exercising.

The ideal workout contains stretching, a warm up, and a cool down along with the physical activity of your choice. You should stretch comfortably (don’t push yourself) prior to any type of exercise. Stretching prepares your muscles for extended physical activity and can lessen the risk of injury while exercising. A warm up consists of 5-10 minutes of aerobic activity (walking, cycling, etc.) at a low-intensity level. The purpose of the warm up is to prepare your muscles, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system for additional physical activity. After you complete the exercise activity of your choice, be sure to include a 5-10 minute cool down of low-intensity activity in order to gradually bring your heart rate back down to pre-exercise level.

So is exercise related to appetite? In the past, research had shown that those who exercise regularly tend to reward themselves with food, thus increasing overall calorie consumption. Not exactly what we all would love to admit, right?

However, recent studies have found that moderate intensity aerobic activity could actually decrease your appetite or increase your feelings of fullness or satiety. “Exercise can definitely suppress hunger,” according to Barry Braun, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Researchers have not yet determined the precise relationship; however, they do know that workouts trigger changes in the hunger hormone ghrelin and the satiety hormones, PYY and GLP-1. Additional research is needed to determine exactly why, how, and to what extent exercise affects appetite, however, we do know that the more we can learn about the positive effects of exercise, the better.

Don’t forget your feet! Proper footwear is essential for diabetics on a daily basis, but even more so when exercising. You should be properly fit for active-wear shoes (running shoes or walking shoes) by a professional to ensure that the shoes offer the appropriate fit and support. Also, you should invest in great socks to help keep your feet comfortable (specialty socks for diabetics are widely available online and in stores).

Be sure to check your feet before and after exercising to ensure you are not developing blisters, have any cuts, etc. These seemingly small bothers can quickly develop into serious health concerns for diabetics.

Before you begin your exercise regime, speak with your doctor to establish clear and appropriate health goals. Your doctor may want to perform physical and/or blood tests prior to clearing you for higher levels of physical activity. It is incredibly important to include your physician in all of your health care decisions and before making any changes to your exercise, diet, or medication routines.

Simple Ways to Get Started

  • Select a type of exercise you enjoy. If you prefer to ride your bike over jogging, go for it! Swimming, running, aerobics class, even yoga are just a few of the many exercise options. If you don’t enjoy your activity, you are less likely to stick with it.
  • Speak with your doctor before beginning an exercise plan. Your physician can recommend a healthy activity level for you, and track your health overall including diet, medications, exercise, sleep, etc.
  • Check your blood sugar levels regularly. Be sure to check your sugar levels before and after you work out, in addition to the frequency recommended by your doctor. Track your sugar levels to document the benefits of your physical activity on your sugar levels.
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself. Gradually build up to your goal activity level, but be sure not to push yourself too far, too fast.
  • Teamwork! If possible, exercise with a friend or family member who will encourage you, and keep you accountable.
  • Make it a habit. Exercise, meals, and taking your medications at the same times every day to help prevent blood sugar fluctuations.
  • Hydrate well. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after you exercise.
  • Stop if it hurts. Some muscle soreness is normal, even expected, when increasing your physical activity, however, sudden pain is not. If you experience unexpected pain, stop and consult your doctor.

Enjoy the numerous benefits of exercise and its positive impact on your diabetes, as well as on your overall health!



American Diabetes Association. 2014. Blood glucose control and exercise. Retrieved from www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/get-started-safely/blood-glucose-control-and-exercise.html

Emery, L. 2012. Exercise may actually suppress your appetite, two new studies suggest. Retrieved from http://www.today.com/health/exercise-may-actually-suppress-your-appetite-two-new-studies-suggest-1C6971256

WebMD. 2013. Type 2 Diabetes and exercise. Retrieved from www.webmd.com/diabetes/guide/exercise-guidelines

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