Can Exercise Cure Diabetes? Move Your Way to Better Health
Getting regular exercise should be an important part of anyone’s healthy lifestyle. But if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, sticking to a fitness routine and eating nutritious meals can make a difference in your overall well-being and long-term health.
Diabetes management starts with discussing your concerns with your doctor. This can help you develop habits that may help you keep diabetes symptoms at bay or keep the ones you have experienced from getting more serious.
Can Exercise Cure Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that your doctor and other healthcare professionals can help you manage. While there is no cure for diabetes, you can adopt lifestyle changes that will help you enjoy a normal life and move your way to better health.
The severity of your symptoms will determine the treatment your doctor recommends. According to the American Diabetes Association, “regular exercise can put you back in control of your life” if you’re dealing with prediabetes or diabetes.
Does Exercise Help Diabetes Type 1?
People with Type 1 diabetes, attributed mostly to genetics and certain viruses, require treatment over a lifetime. Type 1 is a condition where the body does not produce insulin naturally, so the primary treatment is insulin therapy.
Insulin is a hormone that the pancreas would normally secrete when glucose rises in the bloodstream. Diet and exercise may prevent complications associated with diabetes, such as cardiovascular disease, nerve damage and kidney issues.
Does Exercise Help Diabetes Type 2?
Type 2 diabetes, usually diagnosed in adulthood, is often correlated with lifestyle because excess weight and lack of activity are the primary contributing factors. Some Type 2 patients may need insulin therapy or medication in addition to a commitment to a diet and exercise regimen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that people with prediabetes have been successful in preventing or delaying Type 2 diabetes after implementing lifestyle changes.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) discourages the term “cure” when referring to blood glucose levels. The NIDDK prefers the term “remission” because a cure implies the condition is completely reversed.
“In Type 2 diabetes, because blood glucose levels are on a continuum and are significantly associated with weight, it is observed that when weight regain occurs, the glucose levels may increase back to the range associated with diabetes diagnosis.” While there is no cure for diabetes, it can be managed.
What Do Studies Show on Diabetes Exercise and Diet?
Health institutions have published encouraging reports about research conducted around the globe that show promising results from diet and exercise intervention for people with diabetes.
A 2017 clinical trial in Qatar, DIADEM-1, studied 158 participants who were put on a calorie-restricted diet with coaching to take 10,000 steps daily or exercise 150 minutes weekly. Participants were taken off diabetes medication for the study. Weill Cornell Medicine reported that participants in the intensive lifestyle intervention “group had lost an average of 26 pounds, 61% were no longer considered diabetic, and 33% had completely normal blood-sugar levels.” This group was able to reduce medication significantly more than the control group.
Another trial, DiRECT, which included 306 participants in Scotland and England between 2014 and 2017, imposed a complete diet replacement and long-term weight management program along with diabetic medication withdrawal. The Lancet reports that “at 12 months, almost half of participants achieved remission to a non-diabetic state and off antidiabetic drugs.”
How Does Exercise Help Diabetes?
The first report that exercise improves insulin activity was published a few years after the discovery of insulin in 1921, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). In the short term, the impact of exercise comes from the mechanisms involved in insulin dependence. Studies show improved insulin sensitivity right after exercise, were sustained for up to four days.
Long-term benefits appear when organs get involved, resulting in healthier muscle and adipose tissue (body fat) as well as liver, pancreatic and cardiovascular function. Glucose control and insulin sensitivity are optimized after weeks, months and years of continuous training. Consult with your healthcare team, but regular exercise may reduce your dependence on diabetes medication and insulin injections.
What is the Best Exercise for Diabetes?
The NCBI reports that all exercise improves the regulation of glucose, whether you engage in running and other forms of aerobic activity, strength training using weights, or resistance training using powerbands. The ideal is to alternate different forms of exercise spread over each week. It’s important to get moving but do so safely. Discuss any restrictions you may have with your physician before starting any exercise.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes recommends 150 minutes of moderate to intense weekly aerobic activity. Aerobic exercise includes activities that draw on your body’s fat reserve and increase oxygen intake, such as brisk walking, dancing, bike riding, swimming, and jogging. The ADA states that aerobic exercise especially favors people with diabetes because it can reduce blood glucose during your exercise routine and for up to one day afterward. Additionally, your body becomes more efficient at processing glucose and improving insulin sensitivity.
Anaerobic exercise, such as strength training and resistance training, promotes blood glucose control and facilitates the efficient use of insulin. Lifting weights and using resistance bands increases muscle strength and reduces fat mass. The ADA advises people with diabetes to set a goal of two to three anaerobic sessions every week.
Tips for exercise at home
Don’t feel like you need to join a gym to participate in exercise. You can find prerecorded videos online or DVDs for purchase that guide you through in-home walking, yoga, tai chi and weight lifting. Recruit a workout buddy to make you more accountable. You may want to keep an exercise log to ensure variation in your routine and to track progress.
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Diabetes Exercise and Diet Plan
The NIDDK explains that physical activity is one of three factors that influence your ability to achieve remission. The other two factors are how well your pancreas is functioning and how long you have had diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, so the sooner you can transition to a nutritional diet and exercise program, the greater the likelihood that you can manage your disease and reduce the risk of diabetes complications.
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