Expert Health Articles

Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes

Jay Salyer, APRN-CNP

Certified Nurse Practitioner
Endocrinology & Diabetes Specialists of Northwest Ohio

Type 2 diabetes is an illness that interferes with the way in which your body utilizes blood sugar. The human body is made of trillions of cells (brain cells, muscle cells, skin cells, hair cells, etc.) and all of those cells need sugar to function properly. Sugar is transported to body cells with the help of the hormone insulin. If your body stops making insulin (type 1 diabetes) or stops responding to insulin appropriately (type 2 diabetes), sugar can elevate in the bloodstream rather than getting to the cells where it belongs. Insulin resistance, a major contributor to the development of type 2 diabetes, can be improved through regular physical activity, which dramatically improves diabetic control by reducing the amount of medication needed to treat the disease.

Benefits of activity

Regular physical activity helps to prevent and/or improve a variety of chronic illnesses including heart disease, osteoporosis, various cancers, depression, anxiety, as well as type 2 diabetes. With a focus on diabetes, activity increases the effect of insulin within the body. Medications used to treat the disease are also more effective with regular activity. These improvements are not only witnessed during activity itself, but last for several hours following exercise completion. Additionally, long-standing increase in insulin sensitivity happens from increased muscle mass, reduction in fat tissues, and changes within the liver all of which, in turn, significantly improves blood sugar control.

Considerations before, during and after exercise

It is important for those with diabetes to consult with their healthcare team before engaging in strenuous activity to ensure safety. If deemed safe, individuals should maintain hydration with plenty of fluids before, during and after activity. It’s crucial to ensure they wear well-fitting shoes to prevent sores to feet. Monitoring of blood sugars before, during and after activity is also important, as fluctuation can be expected. It would be sensible to keep rapidly absorbed carbohydrates (juice, glucose tablets, etc.) on hand should low blood sugars occur, particularly for those using insulin.

Choosing the right activity plan

Finding exercise that is enjoyable and interesting to the individual is crucial to help remain consistent with an activity regimen over time. Exercise can be broken into multiple categories including aerobic activity, muscle strengthening and stretching. Aerobic activities raise the heart rate and breathing and include swimming, walking, hiking, biking, rowing and running. Strengthening exercises grow and build your muscles and include weight lifting, exercise machines and exercise bands. Stretching helps muscles and joints move more freely.

If starting from a sedentary lifestyle, focusing on slow and steady improvements to activity habits can be less overwhelming. Think five to 10 minutes sessions for three to four days per week in the short term, building up to recommended 30 minutes per day, five to six days per week in the long term. Listen to your body when active and know your limits. Exercise does not have to be intense to provide benefits, as even a modest elevation in heart rate is shown to improve diabetic control.

In this new year, commit to a more active lifestyle enjoyed with friends, family or maybe even solo and see the benefits it provides to not only diabetes but overall wellness!

Physical activity can easily be completed in the comfort of your home or in an outdoor space. Local recreational centers, such as the YMCA, 50 North and Bluffton Recreation Center, also offer environments that support activity, as well as hosting a variety of scheduled events.