Welcome to Diabetes Prevention Thursdays! Today, let’s talk about how exercise helps with insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar levels are too high due to insulin resistance, where your body doesn’t effectively use insulin to break down sugars, despite producing it.
This can be dangerous for a number of reasons, involving damage to your nervous system and internal organs. However, there is a way to make your body less resistant, or simply more sensitive to insulin: exercise.
Various studies have shown that exercising regularly can vastly improve how well your body uses insulin, even essentially reversing the condition in some cases. While you reverse the effects of insulin resistance, you’ll also be getting in better physical condition and improving your heart health.
The reason exercise has such a drastic effect is actually fairly simple. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to increase insulin sensitivity. It helps move sugar (glucose) into the muscles for storage and promotes an immediate increase in insulin sensitivity, which lasts 2–48 hours, depending on the exercise.
Insulin also helps your body turn blood sugar (glucose) into energy. It also helps your body store it in your muscles, fat cells, and liver to use later, when your body needs it. After you eat, your blood sugar (glucose) rises.
All of your cells produce energy by breaking down glucose in cellular respiration, even for little activities like breathing, talking, or even just moving your fingers. By engaging in more physical activity, you’ll be using more of that glucose on a regular basis, not even allowing it to make it into the bloodstream before being used as fuel.
So with less glucose in the blood, your body will actually be able to use the insulin effectively enough to regulate the levels in the bloodstream. Now, if you live a fairly non-active lifestyle already, adding in all this exercise might sound a bit daunting since youre not used to it.
It’s really not as bad as it might sound, though. You dont have to go out and walk for miles on end every single day, every singly week. Its been shown that even just a 30 minute walk 3 times a week can make a significant difference in your insulin resistance.
Any sort of aerobic exercise will do. Aerobic exercises are ones that make you feel out of breath when youre done with them or make your heart rate go up. A few common examples are jogging, walking, swimming, and riding a bike.
It’s also recommended to throw in some anaerobic exercises, such as weightlifting. This is because the more muscles you have, the more glucose your body will use when doing aerobic exercise, meaning your insulin will work a bit better.
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I wanted to talk about this topic because it is absolutely possible to prevent and even reverse Type 2 Diabetes (but you cannot reverse Type 1). Yes, it’s possible! and emerging studies looking at lifestyle medicine and prevention support this! But I always tell my patients that you must be dedicated and diligent in adopting a healthy lifestyle to get the best results. You can create certain behaviors and practices that will not only enrich your life, but that you can pass on to your family, friends, and community, to help break the cycle of this chronic disease so that you can leave a legacy of health to your loved ones.
I use lifestyle medicine as the first line of treatment, before medications, to treat lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Lifestyle-related chronic diseases include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and some cancers, just to name a few. Lifestyle practices, such as eating a whole-food plant-based diet and regular physical activity, can help you improve your blood sugar levels, maybe reverse type 2 diabetes. In certain cases, these approaches may even outperform pharmaceutical therapy.
Tools For Diabetes Prevention and Monitoring
Blood Sugar Monitoring
As you know, I always stress the importance of taking control of your health. Monitoring your blood sugar levels is one of the best ways to do this. To do this, a single drop of blood is collected with disposable lancets and placed on a disposable test strip, which you insert into a home blood-sugar monitoring device, called a glucometer.
The common times for checking your blood sugar are when you first wake up (fasting), before a meal, 2 hours after a meal, and at bedtime; however, you should check your blood sugar as many times a day as your health care team suggests.
Monitoring your blood sugar level provides you and your doctors with important knowledge about how food, activity, medication, stress, and other elements might affect your blood sugar levels. This data will assist you and your doctor in developing a therapy plan that is suited to your demands.
Since weight management is very important in combatting chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend that you be mindful of your weight and its fluctuations, and that you monitor your weight AT LEAST on a weekly basis. I recommend a scale that includes a body composition monitor (*this scale cannot be used with a pacemaker or other implanted devices):
Physical activity (or exercise) can improve your health and reduce the risk of developing several chronic diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, just to name a few. Physical activity actually improves insulin sensitivity. Physical activity can improve your mood, boost your immune system, and even help you maintain a healthy weight.
I often recommend yoga and resistance training for physical activity, but as you are aware, there are plenty of forms of “movement” that you can do! But for the basics, especially if you’re just getting started, yoga and resistance training are where I would start.
Yoga can be a great way to improve your strength and flexibility, manage your stress, improve your heart health, and lose weight! I recommend using a grounded yoga mat to connect yourself with the earth and reduce inflammation.
Resistance training is the mainstay for overall health. It not only has beneficial effects on reducing body fat, it also increases muscle size and strength. Here are some basic dumbbells/free weights that I recommend to everyone.
Remember, living a healthy lifestyle including eating a whole foods plant-based diet and regular physical activity are the best ways to prevent diabetes. Please talk with your doctor about any complementary health approaches, including supplements, you use. Let me know what you think in the comment section below.
PS. I am always asked what tools and resources I recommend to help you reach YOUR health goals. Here is the ever-growing, always updated list for you.
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