Exercise benefits the mind and body, especially with Type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance associated with Type 2 diabetes lowers the use of glucose by the body cells, increasing its level in the blood. This abnormal blood glucose level increases the risk of certain complications, such as stroke and heart attack. But with regular exercise, you can manage sugar levels as well as lower the risk of diabetes-related complications. Exercise can also prevent diabetes in individuals with prediabetes. Increased physical activity can be as effective as medications, and is thus an essential part of the treatment plan for Type 2 diabetes.

According to Diabetes Canada, getting at least 150 minutes (30 minutes daily for five days) of moderate-to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week to manage blood glucose levels sustains overall health. However, if you have a sedentary lifestyle and are considering to start exercising, consult a healthcare professional before doing so. It is also recommended to start gradually and slowly move towards the personal goal.

Here is how exercise is important with Type 2 diabetes and precautions to be followed while doing so.

Lack of Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes

A sedentary lifestyle may contribute to weight gain, especially with diabetes. Excess weight further increases insulin resistance, resulting in abnormal sugar levels. Higher-than-normal weight also increases the risk of diabetes complications. The risk is higher if excess weight builds up in the midsection as compared to that on the lower body part.

Type 2 Diabetes and Exercise Guidelines

Exercising is one of the healthiest ways to manage Type 2 diabetes. Physical activity or exercise is any form of movement that aids in burning calories. Low physical activity is a strong risk factor for complications, and daily activity is thus essential. Along with a healthy diet, exercising also reduces the risk of diabetes complications, such as stroke and heart disorders.

Regular exercise also helps to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Prevent high blood sugar level
  • Reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes-related complications

Types of Physical Activity

According to Diabetes Canada, both aerobic and resistance exercises can help with Type 2 diabetes.

Aerobic Exercises

Aerobic exercises include continuous movements that increase your breathing and heart rate. Your doctor could suggest 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. They may advise starting slowly and gradually moving towards the goal. The good news is that shorter, multiple exercise sessions are as effective as a longer, single session of the same intensity. Some common examples of this exercise include bicycling, walking, or jogging.

Benefits of aerobic exercises are:

  • Reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes-related complications
  • Enhanced health, fitness, and body composition
  • Improved blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and blood fats

Interval Aerobic Exercise Training

This involves a shorter period of vigorous aerobic exercises, including cycling and running, alternating with rest or low-to-moderate intensity exerciseFor people with Type 2 diabetes, interval aerobic training could boost fitness levels.

Resistance Training

Resistance Training involves short-lasting repetitive exercises with weight machines, resistance bands, weights, or bodyweight to build strength and muscles.

Benefits include:

  • Burning calories even during rest 
  • Increasing or maintaining lean muscle
  • Diabetes management and weight control

Your doctor might recommend resistance exercise 2-3 times a week. While initiating resistance exercise, you should consult a diabetes educator or a qualified exercise specialist.

Type 2 Diabetes and Exercise Risks

Activity increases the body’s energy needs, which comes from glucose. Exercising, or doing something quickly, triggers the liver and muscles to release glucose for energy. Doing moderate-intensity exercise for a longer duration causes the muscles to take glucose for energy, lowering its level in blood, therefore, lowering overall sugar levels.

However, if you are on insulin or medications that lower glucose levels, exercising would further reduce it, increasing the risk of hypoglycemia. 

Type 2 Diabetes and Exercise Precautions

Before starting a new exercise, be mindful of the following:

  • Talk to your doctor before initiating any exercise program, especially if you have been sedentary for a while
  • Keep fast-acting carbohydrate sources, such as Life Savers® or glucose tablets, in case you need to manage hypoglycemia
  • Wear MedicAlert®, comfortable clothes, and proper-fitting shoes while exercising
  • Monitor blood glucose level before, during and after exercise, especially if the doctor has put you on medications or insulin to manage sugar levels
  • Consult a doctor immediately if you experience chest pain or breathlessness

Final Thoughts

Activity and exercise are essential not only to manage Type 2 diabetes but also to improve the overall quality of life. However, if you have any other health disorders with Type 2 diabetes, talk to the doctor before starting an exercise routine. They will help to minimize adverse effects or risk of injury while meeting your goals.

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