Andrea Hayes MD with her dogs at Babcock Ranch in March 2023.

Exercise Essential to Effective Diabetes Management

As an endocrinologist living with type 1 diabetes, exercise has played a huge role in helping me manage my own health. Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how the body uses glucose, the main source of energy for your cells. Type 1 Diabetes results from an autoimmune attack rendering the beta cells of the pancreas ineffective in making insulin. Type 2 Diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin and when the body cannot use insulin effectively. Exercise is a powerful tool that can help people with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes manage their condition and improve their overall health.

Exercise helps lower blood glucose levels.

One of the key benefits of exercise is its ability to lower blood glucose levels. When you exercise, your muscles use glucose for energy, which helps to lower the amount of glucose in your blood. Regular exercise can also help to improve insulin sensitivity, making it easier for your body to use insulin effectively. This means that your body can better regulate your blood sugar levels even when you’re not exercising.

Exercise can help to control weight.

Obesity is a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, and losing weight can help to reduce your risk of developing the disease. Improving glycemic control in and of itself can lead to weight gain in diabetes by eliminating the calories that are excreted through the urine as sugar. Exercise can be a powerful antidepressant and can lead to improved mood and self-esteem. Many patients find it easier to make smart food choices when they include regular exercise in their routines.

Don’t forget weight bearing exercise.

Most people are aware of the cardiovascular benefits of aerobic exercise but many are not quite as familiar with the benefits of building muscle. A lot of patients ask me how they can increase or “jump start” their metabolism. The only way to safely increase metabolism is by building lean body mass through weight bearing activity. Having more muscle ignites the body’s fat burning machine and allows the metabolic rate to increase throughout day. Increased muscle mass leads to improved insulin sensitivity and better blood glucose control, as well.

Exercise can also improve cardiovascular health.

Diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and regular exercise can help to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Exercise can help to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, and improve circulation, all of which can contribute to a healthier cardiovascular system.

Commit to the long term.

When it comes to exercise, it’s important to find an activity that you enjoy and that you can stick to over the long term. This might include activities like walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing. The American Diabetes Association recommends that adults with diabetes engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week, spread out over at least three days. Strength training exercises should also be included at least twice per week.

It’s also important to be mindful of your blood glucose levels when exercising. You may need to adjust your medication or insulin dosages to accommodate changes in your activity level. It’s also important to stay hydrated and to carry a source of glucose with you in case your blood sugar levels drop too low.

By finding an activity that you enjoy and that you can stick to over the long term, you can reap the benefits of exercise and improve your overall health and well-being. If you have diabetes, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program to ensure that it is safe for you. With the right guidance and support, exercise can be a powerful tool in managing diabetes and living a healthy, active life.

A version of this post appeared in Health & Wellness magazine.