National Diabetes Week is upon us again! 

As Cutting Edge’s resident Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) I’m here to fill you in on how using exercise interventions can benefit those who are Prediabetic or are living with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. PSA: Exercise can also help those with Type 1 Diabetes! For time’s sake though this blog will focus on Type 2. So, let’s get chatting about the disease that literally translates to “passes honey urine”. How the taste of said urine was confirmed, I will leave to your imagination…

Anyyyway, Type 2 Diabetes accounts for 85-90% of all reported diabetes cases and is strongly linked to modifiable factors such as being overweight or obese and performing inadequate physical activity (being sedentary). As such, this disease can develop at any stage of life and has increasingly been seen in younger people. There is also a genetic factor in regards to developing the disease. To understand the root cause of the disease we need to understand what happens normally to our blood glucose (blood sugar) levels when we eat and/or exercise.

Within our blood stream we have a standard level of circulating blood glucose which we use for energy and a host of other important functions. This level is regulated largely by the hormones insulin and glucagon which are created and stored in the pancreas. When we require a higher amount of circulating glucose, such as when we exercise or when we haven’t eaten for a while, glucagon is released which triggers a release of glucose from the liver, as well as acting on fat tissue to release fat stores into the blood to use as energy. When we have just eaten, we have a high level of blood glucose and insulin is released, triggering a process which transports the excess glucose into our muscles, fat cells and liver.

In the short term, elevated blood glucose levels rarely (but can) result in negative health consequences, but when our body experiences them chronically (long term) we start to become “Insulin resistant”. This term means that insulin whilst still being made and released, is being ignored by our cells and it’s unable to aid in transport of the excess blood glucose out of the bloodstream. When this happens it’s a waiting game until we start to experience a combination of negative complications, such as:

  • High Blood Pressure (due to damage to blood vessels and formation of plaques in these vessels)
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Peripheral Neuropathy (damage to nerves in hands and feet)
  • Retinopathy (damage to fine blood vessels in your eyes)
  • Increased fat mass which may lead to joint issues
  • Hunger signalling negatively affected
  • High Cholesterol
  • Reduced ability to produce insulin meaning synthetic insulin must be used to maintain remaining function

So, what can we do about it? Well, the good news is if resting high blood glucose (Prediabetes) is managed early then we can more or less reverse the majority of the negative consequences by eating a well balanced diet and meeting or exceeding the recommended 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per week. If we see progression to Type 2 then exercise can help by:

  • Improving health and function of the peripheral nervous system by actively using these systems while balancing and moving
  • Preventing further damage to the fine blood vessels in the eyes, reducing blood pressure and reducing cardiovascular disease risk by improving cardiovascular fitness
  • Decreasing fat mass due to the additional glucose used for exercise
  • Taking load off joints by reducing fat mass
  • Reducing bad cholesterol levels
  • Increasing insulin sensitivity and the amount of transporters which carry glucose into the appropriate cells
  • In the cases of those taking insulin, exercise reduces the amounts needed as the body now does more with less
  • Reduces stress and increases well-being

So there you have it, exercise is basically magic if you’re a diabetic, so contact a health professional today if you haven’t already, get cleared to exercise and find yourself an exercise physiologist who can best guide you towards behaviour change and better health.