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Physical Activity as Part of a Healthy Lifestyle for Diabetics

Adopting a healthy lifestyle to help manage your diabetes isn’t about training for the Iron Man Triathlon. It’s about making small decisions that fit better choices into your other lifestyle.

You could make a long list of reasons why many children and adults get less physical activity now than in days gone by — technological, social, environmental, entertainment, demographic, development planning, and safety are a few.

A recent study caused something of an uproar when data from The American Heritage Time Use Study showed that women in 2010 expended an average of 360 fewer calories daily than women in 1965, primarily because of significantly less time spent on physical housework. The statistics are virtually the same, of course, for men.

The fact that it’s less likely you’ll get physical activity during the course of your normal day doesn’t make physical activity less important. It simply makes it less likely you’ll get the incredible benefits of regular activity unless you’re convinced it’s worth the effort to find opportunities.

With what you’ve learned about diabetes, and the importance of blood glucose control and cardiovascular health, see if you’re not convinced making a commitment to exercise is worth the effort when you hear the full story.

Physical activity offers the following benefits to your immediate and your long-term health:

  • Exercise lowers blood glucose, and boosts insulin sensitivity. Higher insulin sensitivity can persist for 24 to 72 hours after exercising

  • Exercise reduces dangerous visceral fat — fat deposited around internal organs, which is associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes — more effectively than diet

  • Exercise helps prevent high blood pressure and helps lower blood pressure even among people diagnosed with hypertension

  • Exercise prevents plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) in arteries and vessels, reducing the risk for heart attack or stroke by lowering bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and raising good HDL cholesterol

  • Exercise helps arteries retain flexibility, reducing the potential for plaque buildup

  • Vigorous exercise helps prevent some cancers, including colon and postmenopausal breast cancers

  • Exercise improves balance, and along with adequate calcium and vitamin D increases bone strength, both reducing the likelihood of a fall and reducing the risk of fracture in a fall

  • Exercise may reduce the risk of dementia

  • Exercise improves sleep, reduces the symptoms of stress and depression, enhances sexual enjoyment, improves mobility, and extends lifespan.

That’s an impressive list, and you must be anxious to know exactly what you need to do now to get these benefits for yourself. Current recommendations are for 150 minutes per week of moderate activity, like walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.

Lately, resistance exercise — lifting weights would be the most obvious example — has been getting more and more attention for health benefits that are complimentary to aerobic activity like walking or biking.

A review of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III concluded that every 10 percent increase in muscle mass corresponded with an 11 percent reduction in insulin resistance. Because insulin resistance is a key cause of type 2 diabetes, the advantages to increasing muscle mass with resistance exercise are obvious.

Some examples of aerobic exercise include walking, biking, dancing, tennis, golf, swimming, shadow boxing or martial arts, and aerobics. Resistance training can be effective not only with weights, but also with stretch bands, a gallon or half gallon of milk, rowing, or by doing pushups.

Making time for exercise is always the barrier people identify when challenged to get more physical activity. However, you can increase your activity levels almost by accident if you change habits. For instance, make it a point to park a good distance from the door at the mall or grocery, and take the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator.

Recent research is finding that too much time sitting is a special risk beyond not getting exercise, and taking five minutes just to stand or stroll every hour has some benefit. Finally, any activity is better that none at all. The American College of Sports Medicine guidelines acknowledge that exercise of less than ten minutes duration may have health and fitness benefits, especially for sedentary individuals.

Be certain to consult with your doctor before changing your activity patterns. Foot health is extra important, so wear comfortable shoes and avoid blisters. But, make it a point to get whatever physical activity you can.

Weight-training (resistance) exercise may be as important — possibly more important — than aerobic exercise for controlling your blood glucose. The government guidelines recommend doing resistance exercise on two or more days a week involving all the major muscle groups: the chest, back, shoulders, hips, abdomen, and upper and lower legs.

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