Preventing Type 2 Diabetes with Exercise - Great Health Guide
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes with Exercise

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes with Exercise

Written by Jennifer Smallridge

You currently may not know of someone with type 2 diabetes, but it is highly likely that you know someone who is at high risk. In 2014, the World Health Organisation estimated 422 million people worldwide were living with diabetes, with a further 46% of people currently undiagnosed.

Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed when the body experiences a build-up of glucose (a sugar) in the blood. The complications of these high blood glucose levels over the long term are significant health concerns including, foot and leg ulcers, skin infections, increased weight, limb amputation, possible blindness, organ failure, stroke and heart attack. But despite diabetes being such a massively chronic issue around the world, the good news is that preventing type 2 diabetes with exercise is very possible.

Check your risk:

Diabetes Australia have an online risk calculator here but in general, the risk factors for type 2 diabetes are:

  • Being diagnosed with pre-diabetes (impaired glucose tolerance) via a blood test from your GP, i.e. HbA­1c levels, which is the long-term marker of diabetic control

  • Being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease

  • With increase in age, but it is now occurring in younger age groups including children, adolescents and young adults

  • Being overweight, especially with fat around the waist

  • Smoking

  • Minimal or no exercise

  • Unhealthy eating habits (high fat, high sugar, high salt, low fibre foods).

Understanding insulin:

When we eat food that contains carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, pasta, rice, fruit, etc.), our body breaks it down into glucose and it is released into the blood stream. To take up and use the glucose for energy, insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas) acts like a ‘key’ and unlocks the ‘door’ to cells in the body, mainly in the muscles and liver. When someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the key no longer works. This means that cells have stopped responding to insulin and as well, the pancreas isn’t able to produce enough insulin or no longer produces any insulin.

As a result, the blood glucose level starts to rise in the blood stream when carbohydrates are consumed. This is called hyperglycaemia. If this condition remains for a period of time, the person is classified with type 2 diabetes. There are several medications or injections that are prescribed for diabetics to reduce blood glucose when insulin is no longer produced by the pancreas.

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Preventing type 2 diabetes with exercise is the best option:

Like insulin, a single bout of exercise speeds up the rate at which glucose can be taken into the muscles. It appears that exercise is not only an effective ‘medicine’ for type 2 diabetes, but a significant preventative measure as well! One study looked at individuals who were all at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and instructed one group to exercise and eat well, while giving the other group metformin (a drug designed to treat type 2 diabetes). Those who changed their lifestyle reduced their risk by 58%, whereas those who took the medication only reduced their risk by 31%.

You can think about exercise as an easy way to access your body’s own built-in medicine. Exercise removes extra glucose from the blood and uses it where we need it most, in the muscles.

If exercise is medicine, what is the dose?

The good news regarding exercise in preventing type 2 diabetes, is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Most of the participants in the above study chose to walk for an average of 30 minutes every day and lost 5-7% of their body weight in the process.

Consider the following three tips when planning your exercise routine to prevent type 2 diabetes:

1. Include strength training. Especially if you have already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Strength training (using weights, resistance bands or body weight) has been shown to be more effective than aerobic exercise alone, in managing blood glucose levels. The blood test that measures the amount of glucose that has accumulated over 3 months in your body is HbA1 By lowering HbA­1c levels, this can be used as the long-term marker of diabetic control.

2. Have something light to eat before or during exercise. It is recommended that some carbohydrates are consumed before or during physical activity, to avoid blood sugar going too far in the opposite direction, i.e. low blood sugar or hypoglycaemia, so eating a small snack or having a piece of fruit beforehand will help. Symptoms of low blood sugar include blurred vision, dizziness, shakiness, fatigue and fainting.

3. Consult a professional. Just like medication, exercise can be expertly prescribed to minimise the risk of unwanted side effects and maximise the benefits. To find out the best exercise regime for preventing type 2 diabetes, make an appointment with your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

Preventing type 2 diabetes with exercise is possible. All people should make it their health goal to have healthy glucose levels for the rest of their lives. The right timing and type of exercise is an essential and natural way to achieve this.

Author of this article:
Jennifer Smallridge is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Upwell Health Collective in Camberwell, Victoria; as well as an Academic Lecturer in the fields of Exercise Science and Functional Human Anatomy.

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