There is a significant amount of research available documenting the importance of structured physical activity in the prevention and management of diabetes. Despite all of this information, just 39% of adults with diabetes are physically active, compared with 58% of other adults. Furthermore, 75% of those with diabetes die from cardiovascular disease, which is also largely preventable through physical activity.
The two major goals of diabetes therapy are to normalise blood sugar (glucose) levels and reduce body fat. Chronic high blood glucose levels are associated with significant long term complications such as damage to the kidneys, eyes, nerves, heart, and blood vessels. A high level of abdominal fat is linked to high blood pressure and an increase in insulin resistance.
Physical activity is a major therapeutic modality for diabetes. The acute benefits of physical activity include:
- Reduced blood glucose levels,
- Decreased insulin resistance, and
- Increased insulin sensitivity.
The chronic benefits of physical activity include:
- A reduction in blood pressure,
- Greater metabolic control (glucose control and insulin resistance),
- An improved lipoprotein (fat) profile,
- Weight loss, and
- Psychological benefits.
Physical activity achieves these effects through many mechanisms. For example, when exercising, your muscles require more glucose to function, reducing the amount of glucose in your bloodstream and therefore normalising your blood glucose levels. Physical activity also reduces your blood glucose levels by increasing the ability of your body to transport glucose into your muscles and be utilised as energy.
Weight loss is another important benefit of long term-physical activity, which helps reduce the risks of developing co- morbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, and nerve and eye damage.
The greatest benefits for people with diabetes are achieved through a combination of aerobic and resistance training. Research has identified that those with diabetes need to engage in physical activity at least 3- 5 days per week, for at least 30 mins at a time. The intensity of the physical activity undertaken varies, as each individual will have a different capacity. However, a low- to- moderate starting intensity is recommended. It is suggested that resistance training is completed on at least 2 non-consecutive days per week.
Take home messages
- To gain the benefits of physical activity, a person with diabetes needs to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine. Physical activity programs should start at low to moderate intensities, and gradually work up to higher intensities.
- To sustain a physical activity program, goals need to be constantly reviewed and re-set.
- A person with diabetes needs to be properly supervised by a health care professional so that they avoid discomfort, injury, or complications with their condition and are provided with the level of care and support they require.
Physical activity is an important component of effective diabetes management. Regular physical activity can become an enjoyable part of your day, with long-term benefits to your diabetes and health.