What I Wish Someone Had Told Me…

…about Exercise and Diabetes. (A version of this article appeared on the DiabetesMine.com blog by Amy Tenderich in late July 2008.)

Even though I have been living with diabetes since I was four years old (in 1968), I knew even back then—more than a decade before the era of home blood glucose monitoring began—that exercise did good things for my blood sugars. How could I tell without a meter? Mainly, I knew because being active always made me feel better, physically and emotionally. In fact, as I went through my teenage years without any way to know what my blood sugars were, exercising regularly gave me the only sense of control that I had over my diabetes. There are some things that I know now about exercise that I wish someone had told me years ago. Luckily, times have changed, and you have access to information now about exercise and diabetes that I did not.

For starters, did you know that one of the secrets of the longest-living people with diabetes is that exercise can erase your blood sugar mistakes? I knew it helped me, but it wasn’t until I got my first monitor in the mid-1980s that I found out how much. Why? Exercise acts as an extra dose of insulin by getting the sugar out of your blood and into your muscles without insulin. When you’re not being active, your body needs insulin to stimulate that uptake. Being regularly active makes your muscles more sensitive to any insulin in your body as well, so it takes less to get the job done. What better way to help erase a little overeating of carbs (or a slight lack of insulin) than a moderate dose of exercise to lower your blood sugar?

Something else I wish I’d known is that exercise doesn’t always make your blood sugar come down, at least not right away. When you do really intense exercise, the glucose-raising hormones that your body releases can actually raise your blood sugar somewhat instead, albeit usually only temporarily. Even if a workout raises it in the short run, over a longer period of time (2-3 hours), the residual effects of the exercise will bring your blood sugar back down while replacing the carbs in your muscles that you used. If you have to take insulin like I do, be careful to take less than normal to correct a post-workout high or your blood sugar will likely be crashing low a few hours later. If you don’t take insulin, just give it some time to come back down or do a cool-down of less intense exercise to help bring it back to normal.

I have a full list of things I wish I had known about exercise and diabetes, but let me share just a few more tidbits with you to whet your appetite for more. Exercise is probably the best way to control emotional stress and to stave off depression—far better than antidepressant medications and with no bad side-effects! What’s more, exercise naturally bestows your body with antioxidant effect, which is why regular exercisers are less likely to develop most types of cancer; why they generally feel and act younger than their chronological age; and why exercise is about the best medicine that there is (so don’t forget to take your daily dose). Finally, there are many different ways to exercise, including standing up more, taking extra steps during the day, fidgeting, and just generally being on the move. Knowing that hopefully takes away about every excuse you may have for not being more active.

If you need motivation or tips for getting started, check out my book entitled The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan. For people with any type of diabetes who are already more active but want more in-depth information, be on the lookout for my latest book being released in November 2008, The Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook. For inspiration and other good information, pick up a copy of my last book, 50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes. For all sorts of other tips on exercise, fitness, diabetes, nutrition, and more, keep reading the articles posted on this blog and my Web site at http://www.shericolberg.com.


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