I have always known at some level that exercise did good things for my blood glucose, even before I had my first blood glucose meter (after going 18 years without access to one). How could I tell without a meter? Being active always made me feel better, physically and emotionally.
Here are some things that I know about diabetes and exercise that I wish someone had told me years ago.
#1: Exercise can help erase your blood glucose “mistakes”
- Exercise acts kind of like an extra dose of insulin.
- At rest, insulin is the main mechanism your body has to get glucose into muscle cells.
- During exercise, glucose goes to your muscles without needing any insulin (via muscle contractions)
- Being regularly active makes your muscles more sensitive to insulin, so it takes less to have the same effect when you eat during or after exercise.
- What better way to help erase a little overeating of carbs (or some insulin resistance) than a moderate dose of exercise to lower your blood glucose?
#2: Exercise doesn’t always make your blood glucose go down
- It doesn’t always make your blood glucose come down, at least not right away.
- During intense exercise, the excess glucose-raising hormones your body releases can raise your blood glucose.
- Over a longer period of time (2-3 hours), it usually comes back down, but who wants to wait that long?
- If you take insulin, you’ll need to take less than normal to correct a post-workout high or your blood glucose will likely be crashing low a few hours later.
- A cool-down of less intense exercise (like walking) can help bring it back to normal, so do an easy, active cool-down after intense workouts or activities.
#3: Your muscles are critical to managing your blood glucose levels
- Exercise also helps you build and retain your muscle mass.
- Muscles are the main place you store carbs after you eat them—like a gas tank.
- Exercising helps use up stored carbs, but can also increase the size of the tank.
- When you eat carbs post-exercise, they can easily go into muscle storage with a little insulin.
- Being sedentary keeps the tank full and makes you resistant to insulin.
- Aging alone can cause you to lose muscle mass over time, but you can combat it to a certain extent by recruiting all of your muscle fibers regularly.
- Resistance training and/or high-intensity intervals build muscle more because they recruit the faster fibers that you don’t use when walking or doing easier activities.
#4: Exercise is the best medicine there is
- Use exercise to control stress and to stave off depression—with no bad side-effects!
- It’s a natural antioxidant—more effective and better than supplements!
- Being regularly active prevents all sorts of cancers.
- If you’re active, you’ll likely feel better and look younger than you are (as long as you don’t exercise too much).
- You’ll be even less likely to catch a cold if you exercise moderately and regularly.
- Standing more, taking extra steps, and fidgeting even help—be active all day long, and don’t forget your daily dose of the best medicine there is!
You can read more about how to manage your blood sugar when exercising in these posts:
- How to prevent low blood sugar during cardio
- How to find your formula for food and insulin around workouts
- Why some types of exercise can make your blood sugar increase