Exercise plays key role in controlling diabetes

Statistics from the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet reveal that a total of 25.8 million children and adults in the United States, roughly 8.3 percent of the population, have diabetes.

Learning more about diabetes can help you recognize warning signs in yourself, or to assist someone who may need immediate attention.

Diabetes mellitus is a condition that impairs glucose (blood sugar) metabolism. Glucose is used as the body’s chief energy source, and insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose enter the cells. With diabetes, the cells either don’t respond normally to insulin or the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or both. If the cells do not accept glucose, it accumulates in the bloodstream.

Complications from diabetes are serious, and can include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, neuropathy (nervous system disease) and amputation.

Studies have indicated that the early detection and treatment can decrease the chance of developing these complications.

Unfortunately, diabetes often goes undiagnosed because symptoms can seem harmless. Symptoms may include fatigue, extreme thirst, weight loss, frequent urination and increased vulnerability to infection.

There are two main forms of diabetes. The first, Type I, is known as juvenile onset diabetes. In this case, little or no insulin is produced, and insulin injections are needed.

Over 90 percent of people with diabetes have Type II, adult onset diabetes. The condition usually comes on after age 40, is most common in females and is linked to both obesity and genetics. Type II diabetes is usually the result of cells not responding to insulin or the pancreas not producing enough of the hormone. The good news is that Type II diabetes can be reversed with weight loss. Many diabetics who require medication to control their blood-sugar levels are able to reduce or discontinue their use with the addition of regular physical activity.

Regular exercise is extremely important for most diabetics because it helps regulate blood sugar, aids in metabolism and reduces risk factors for hardening of the arteries. The American Diabetes Association recommends consulting with a physician first. Once cleared, certain precautions should be taken, which include:

Wait one to two hours after eating before beginning a workout. Check glucose levels before, during and after exercise, and make note of any unusual symptoms that occur.

Exercise with a partner, or wear a diabetic identification tag. Try to exercise daily, preferably about the same time each day.

You may need to eat more than usual after a workout to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). Symptoms of hypoglycemia include confusion, weakness, unconsciousness and/or convulsions. Experts recommend carrying some form of carbohydrate such as fruit juice or hard candy with you for an emergency.

In the beginning, mild to moderate intensity exercise is best. Aerobic activities such as walking, swimming or cycling several times per week are excellent ways to improve insulin sensitivity. Although we burn a combination of carbohydrates and fats for energy, the first 20 to 30 minutes of exercise use primarily sugars from the blood. As the workout continues, elevated enzymes begin to burn more fat. Individuals with Type I diabetes should work up to 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic activity per session, while those with Type II diabetes should aim for 40-60 minutes to enhance weight loss.

Diabetics should avoid exercising in extreme heat. Because problems with the feet are not uncommon, watch for skin lesions, blisters, discoloration or swelling.

Marjie Gilliam is an International Sports Sciences Master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. She owns Custom Fitness Personal Training Services, LLC.

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