Whether you’re new to exercise or a sports enthusiast, diabetes can get in the way of being physically active. To deal with this problem, I founded a new information web site called Diabetes Motion (www.diabetesmotion.com), given that I’m one of the world’s leading experts on diabetes and exercise. The mission of Diabetes Motion is to provide practical guidance about blood glucose management to anyone who wants to be physically active with diabetes.
Without a doubt, being physically active is good for the body, heart, and mind. If you are already an avid exerciser, then you know the benefits of exercise for your health and diabetes control. If you are just thinking about getting serious about sports or fitness activities, then you have a lot of positive changes to look forward to.
Exercise can help you build muscle and lose body fat, suppress your appetite, eat more without gaining fat weight, enhance your mood, reduce stress and anxiety, increase your energy, bolster your immune system, keep your joints and muscles more flexible, and improve the quality of your life. For many people with diabetes, being physically active has made all the difference between controlling diabetes or letting it control them.
What you may not know is what type of exercise or physical activity you should you be doing or how much of it is recommended for optimal health and the best blood glucose control. The good news is that you can get different (but all good) benefits from doing a variety of types of daily movement, which gives you a lot of options. In fact, exercising regularly is likely the single most important thing you can do to slow the aging process, manage your blood sugars, and reduce your risk of diabetic complications.
Need help with revving up your exercise? If your exercise performance been less than you’d hoped recently, here are some potential causes of fatigue (and solutions):
Inadequate rest time: You may be getting through your workouts well, but then fail to perform when you have races and events simply because you didn’t take enough rest time to restore glycogen and fully recover. It’s critical to cut back on your workouts (“taper”) for at least 1-2 days before a big event and keep your blood glucose in good control so your glycogen levels will be as full as possible on race/event day.
Blood glucose and glycogen stores: It’s harder for your body to restore your muscle glycogen (stored carbs) between workouts unless you’re eating enough carbs and have functioning insulin available. Your carb intake doesn’t have to be tremendous—probably just 40% of your total calories coming from carbs will suffice—but your blood glucose absolutely needs to be in good control for your muscles to restore carbs optimally.
Iron: Having low iron stores can cause you to feel tired all the time, colder than normal, and just generally lackluster. You can get a simple blood test done to check your hemoglobin (iron in red blood cells) and your overall iron status (serum ferritins). If your body’s iron levels are low (due to diabetes or non-diabetes causes), taking iron supplements can help, along with eating more red meat with lots of absorbable iron.
Magnesium: You may have a magnesium deficiency, especially if you take insulin or your blood glucose levels are not optimal. Magnesium is involved in over 300 metabolic pathways. If you’re deficient, your exercise will be compromised and you may even experience some muscle cramping. To correct a deficiency, eat more foods with magnesium in them—such as nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens, legumes, oats, fish, and even dark chocolate—but taking a supplement may also help.
B vitamins: For people with diabetes, thiamin (vitamin B1) deficiency is also a likely culprit in exercisers and can be further depleted by alcohol intake. People who take metformin to control diabetes can also end up deficient in vitamins B6 and B12, both of which are essential to exercising well. Consider taking a vitamin B complex daily.
Thyroid issues: Having lower levels of functioning thyroid hormones can cause fatigue and poor exercise performance. Have your main thyroid hormones (TSH, T3 and T4), but possibly also your thyroid antibodies if your thyroid hormones levels are normal and nothing else is helping your exercise (specifically antibodies to thyroid peroxidase), especially if you have celiac disease.
Still stumped? If you’ve been through this list and had everything check out okay, then consider other possible issues like your hydration status, daily carb intake (adding even just 50 grams per day to your diet may help), other possible vitamin and mineral deficiencies (vitamin D, potassium, etc.), statin use (some statins taken to lower blood cholesterol cause unexplained muscle fatigue), and frequent hypoglycemia.
Please visit www.diabetesmotion.com for more helpful information about being active with diabetes.