Everyone has probably heard about how prevalent type II diabetes is in the United States.
Onset age continues to decrease as more and more younger people are diagnosed. Most of us also understand that the reason for this is how we eat as Americans. It doesn't take a scientist to understand that obesity is a major problem in this country - all it takes is a stroll through the mall one day.
While it is far more important to deal with this problem from a nutritional approach, I think people fail to realize that there is another effective way to combat type II diabetes - and that is through the use of exercise.
Here is all of the science that you need to know to understand how exercise can affect diabetes. What makes diabetes such a dangerous disease to so many different parts of your body is that ultimately there is too much sugar in the bloodstream.
When you eat a meal and your body breaks down the carbohydrates into simple sugars, they enter the bloodstream and need to circulate throughout the body in order to get to each individual cell. Afterall, this is the energy our body needs to function. Sugar, by itself, can not get into a cell. It is too large of a molecule and so it requires some help. That help comes from the pancrease, which secretes insulin (a hormone) into the bloodstream whenever you eat. When insulin goes up to a cell, it attaches itself to the cell and makes the cell "open it's doors" so that the larger sugar molecule can get in. We've all heard of "no shirt, no service" well this is more like "no insulin, no sugar". It simply will not get into the cell without the presence of insulin.
In type II diabetes, usually due to poor eating choices over a prolonged period of time, the cells become much less sensitive to insulin because so much of it is being constantly secreted, that it starts losing its effect. It then has to secrete more to get the same effect and a viscious cycle begins, ultimately ending with the pancrease being overworked to the point where it can completely stop secreting insulin altogether. That's why many diabetics end up injecting insulin into themselves. Without insulin, there is no way for the body to regulate the amount of sugar in the bloodstream.
But wait, there is hope! We have found out through research that if you take a muscle and exercise it (think bicep curls for example) those muscle cells will open their gates and accept sugar into the cell in an identical manner as if insulin was present. Without getting too technical, the same chain of events occur inside of the cell that causes the cell to open up and allow sugars in. This happens because the body knows that if you are exercising you will need more energy and so the cells will open up to accept any sugar available in the blood.
How can we use this to help with diabetes? By using some common sense we could create an exercise program to maximize this insulin-like effect to maintain our blood sugars at a more normal level. Most diabetics will know when their sugar levels are at a peak, usually twenty to sixty minutes after a meal. That would be the time to exercise. We also want to use our largest muscles like our legs (quadriceps and gluteals) because the bigger the muscle the greater the demand for sugar, the more effective it will be at lowering your blood-sugar levels.
What if I'm unable to exercise? That's ok! Research has shown that even wheelchair bound individuals performing any type of exercise, like kicking your legs or rasing your arms, can lower blood sugar levels by this same affect.
Please pass this on to anyone you know who is a diabetic. This can make a big difference in their lives. For mild diabetes it could completely eliminate the need for medication (along with a good diet) or for more severe cases it can lessen the amount of medication needed which can over the long-term make a big difference in the severity of some of the side effects that diabetes causes, such as eye health or nerve function in the extremities.
As always, comments or questions are encouraged
Yours in Health
Chris Ostling PT, DPT