exercise for diabetes management

The benefits of diet and exercise cannot be overemphasized. Taking charge of your health typically involves a two-pronged approach: diet and exercise. Both are crucial for long-term success and optimal health.

Type 2 diabetes, when your body can no longer efficiently use the insulin it makes and may even stop producing insulin, is a common but not inevitable condition. Preventing and even reversing the onset of type 2 diabetes is possible — it just takes some commitment.

The benefits of diet and exercise

Diet and exercise are key components of a successful strategy to avoid or manage diabetes. Studies show that diet and exercise can sharply lower the likelihood of diabetes, even in people at high risk of developing it.

Other studies show that lifestyle interventions such as diet, exercise, and education can improve risk factors that are often associated with cardiovascular disease in individuals already living with type 2 diabetes, as well as help lower blood sugar levels.

So not only does eating a nutritious diet and getting enough physical activity helps manage blood sugar if you already have type 2 diabetes, but it can also aid in weight loss and high cholesterol — issues often closely tied to a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

Also, a major clinical study by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases observed individuals at risk for diabetes for three years and found that including 150 minutes of exercise a week decreased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.

This means sticking to physical activity and a nutritious diet may not only help you avoid or reverse a type 2 diabetes diagnosis now but in the future as well.

Exercise: Begin with the basics

While diet can sometimes be tailored for you by a doctor or nutritionist (i.e., you can’t tolerate gluten, you prefer low carb, if you are a vegan, etc.), the kind of exercise that works for evading or managing type 2 diabetes is a bit broader.

Essentially: All exercise counts! Especially because doing something you enjoy helps you to stick with it. According to the American Heart Association, most adults need at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both.

For instance, you could choose to go on two 30-minute power walks 2 days out of the week, combined with two 20-minute runs 2 other days of the week.

Keep in mind: Moderate aerobic exercise elevates your heart rate, so if it’s possible for you, make sure those power walks are brisk!

If moderate exercise isn’t possible, the American Diabetes Association says that even low-volume activity (expending just 400 kcal/week) improves insulin action in previously sedentary adults.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you’re living with type 2 diabetes, the effects of exercise on blood sugar can sometimes be immediate: Check your blood sugar before and after 20 to 30 minutes of heart-elevating activity, and you’ll likely see a lowered number.

Whether you’re attempting to avoid a type 2 diabetes diagnosis or trying to manage one, be sure to speak with your doctor before starting a new exercise program — especially if exercise hasn’t been a focus in your life until now. Depending on where you are with your diagnosis, there may be certain health issues to keep in mind.

Committing to your exercise journey

Some people will find that committing to a routine exercise program mostly requires time management and determination. Others may need a little extra help staying motivated. Whichever category you’re in, finding the activities that bring you joy and help you feel encouraged are the right ones for you.

If you need even more incentive to incorporate physical activity into your life, a small study from 2008 suggests that when individuals with persistent feelings of fatigue finished working out, they felt less tired than fatigued individuals who have spent the same amount of time sitting on a couch. So even though exercising may seem like a chore at first, people who stick with it often find that they actually look forward to their activity fairly quickly.

Changing your lifestyle is not an easy thing. It can feel hard at first, and you may need to restart a few times. But the encouraging thing about type 2 diabetes is that it’s a chronic condition that can be avoided and even reversed with progressive lifestyle changes.

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