swimming

Exercise is medicine

It’s more than just good for you. Nicole McCreedy tells us why.

Regardless of the type of diabetes you have, your doctor is likely to recommend a combination of diet, exercise and, if necessary, medication to help control your blood sugar levels. Many studies have shown that adopting a healthy lifestyle is effective in treating diabetes.

Being newly diagnosed with diabetes can be overwhelming at first. For some, doctor’s orders to exercise regularly may feel like a big obstacle to overcome on this new journey. But don’t stress if you’re someone who can’t recall the last time the word exercise passed your lips: even small steps in the right direction count.

The decision to exercise is the first step to better health. “Exercise is literally the best medicine,” according to biokineticist, Sarah Hall. “This is not saying you can stop taking what the doctor has prescribed,” she advises, “but exercise will generally improve your health, decrease your stress levels, help with weight loss and improve your wellbeing.”

No matter what your medical condition, there is usually some form of exercise that you can do. Make an effort to find an activity that you like, and are able to perform at your current level of health and fitness. This will make it a much easier habit to keep.

Diabetes educator, Kate Bristow, has put together a list of five activities suitable for people with diabetes you can consider trying out:

Walking briskly for thirty minutes, five days a week is the global recommendation for all adults – with or without diabetes. For exercise “newbies”, you can break this up into shorter sessions throughout the day. In fact, a recent study from New Zealand found that taking a ten-minute stroll immediately after a meal may be better for lowering blood sugar levels than a full half hour session once a day.

Cycle for 15 to 30 minutes three times per week. Maintain your heart rate at no more than 65 to 75% of your max, which is a great way to increase your blood circulation and the demands on your body gently. Depending on where you live, consider using a bicycle to commute to work or to nearby places you need to visit. Not only is it a good way to increase your daily level of activity; it can also make the trip more interesting.

Low intensity whole body weight training helps the body to absorb sugar (glucose) into the muscles. As a result, your body becomes more sensitive to insulin and this can lower blood sugar levels. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn – even when your body is at rest. Preventing muscle loss with weight or strength training is also the key to maintaining an independent lifestyle as you age. Get help from a qualified professional who can supervise you while performing the exercises. To start, your weight training programme may include two to three sets of 15 repetitions (reps) for each muscle group twice a week.

Tai Chi or Beginner Yoga are both forms of exercise that allow for gentle movements, through breathing and controlled contraction of the muscles of the entire body. It is best, when first learning either of these disciplines, to join a class so that you learn the correct, safe techniques. A beginner class is approximately 45 minutes. Let the instructor know if you are new to the class, so that they know to help you with the postures. 

Swimming allows once again for the whole body to be involved, with movement performed in a supportive environment.  As long as you take regular breathing and rest breaks, you will see rewarding results.

Tips from biokineticist Sarah Hall:

  • Don’t begin something that you cannot commit to – financially or time-wise.
  • Exercise, to be beneficial, needs to be regular and sustained.
  • Any little bit of regular exercise is better than none at all.
  • Start slowly and build it up – there is no point in hurting yourself in the first session.
  • When you begin an exercise programme, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor – especially those with health risk and those who are a bit older.
  • Exercise can lower your blood sugar levels and the effects can last up to two days after, therefore it is important to test regularly especially before and up to four hours after exercise and understand the effect exercise has on your own levels.
  • Know how to manage a low sugar level if it happens.
  • Set realistic, clear and concise goals.

No matter what kind of exercise you choose, your body will thank you!