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Beyond Trim: Exercise and its relationship with blood sugar

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Are you concerned about controlling your blood sugar? Whether or not you have been diagnosed with diabetes or told that you are prediabetic, you should know that exercise and being more active in general can have a positive effect on your blood sugar.

The hormone insulin in our blood helps move glucose into our cells, where it can be used for energy. In a person with diabetes, cells do not allow the insulin to do its job. That condition is called insulin resistance. During exercise, this resistance is temporarily lessened and allows the insulin to work better. This effect can last for several hours after the activity.

Another way that exercise can affect blood sugar is not dependent on insulin. Your muscle cells can store some of the glucose that comes into your body in the form of glycogen, but there is a limited amount of room for that storage. Exercise creates space in the muscle cell for glucose storage. If there is no space available in the muscle cell, the extra glucose is sent to the liver, where it is stored as fat. 

If you have diabetes and would like to start being more active, be sure to talk to your health care provider. You will need to check your blood sugar before and after exercise to understand how your body responds to the activity. It might be helpful to work out with a friend or partner who is aware of your diagnosis. And you might want to wear a medical ID bracelet.

Controlling blood sugar is not the only reason people with diabetes might wish to be more active. Exercise also helps to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by decreasing blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body fat.

Exercise guidelines for people with diabetes – and for anyone in general – include 3 different types of activities. You should include cardiovascular or aerobic activity such as walking, swimming, biking or dancing on several days each week. In addition, strength training or resistance training can be done 2 to 3 days each week.  And, lastly, some stretching or flexibility exercises can be done on 2 or 3 days each week. 

Keep in mind that these are goals for which you should reach. Start slowly and increase your activity as you are able.

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