Being told you have diabetes need not mean a life sentence. You can still take charge of your health. Here's how getting active can help.
Dr Michael Chia
School of Physical Education
The Diabetic Condition
Diabetes is a condition where the body is unable to regulate the concentration of glucose in the blood. The diabetic patient has problems metabolising, or breaking down, glucose for the basic processes of life.
After you eat, your blood glucose level increases and must be kept under control by the hormone insulin which is secreted by the pancreas. Insulin has the job of regulating the concentration of glucose in the blood between the moments you eat, and the moments glucose is taken up by the body when you work, work out or lean over to carry your briefcase.
There are two types of diabetes. Type I diabetes affects between five and 10 per cent of diabetic patients. The body cannot produce enough insulin, and they need daily injections to make sure they can continue to break down carbohydrates. Type I diabetics tend to be younger in age.
Type II diabetes is more common, affecting nine in ten diabetic patients. They are usually above 40 years of age and have are overweight or obese. Research has shown that leading a sedentary lifestyle tends to encourage the development of Type II diabetes.
The problem with Type II diabetes is that is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, blindness and infections. Diabetics may have problems handling strenuous activities. Low blood sugar can lead to hypoglycemia, for example, and the patient may collapse.
In addition, diabetics have a great tendency to feel tired and even depressed. All these can severely reduce the quality and expectancy of life - which can make a big irony out of the statement "life begins at 40."
Physical Can Improve Diabetes Control
All is not lost, however, if you learn how to manage your diabetes. Research has consistently shown that exercise can help control the amount of sugar in the blood. Exercise can also help to burn excess calories, lower your weight, improve circulation and blood pressure.
Even if you have never exercised much for years, the you can still start. The effects of exercising now can also improve things.
For example, scientists have found that urbanised Australian aborigines had improved glucose tolerance when they returned to their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
Also it has been shown that the risk of developing Type II diabetes was substantially less in female subjects who were engaged in vigorous exercise once a week, compared to those who exercised less frequently.
In another study, it was reported that male doctors who exercised vigorously five times a week lowered the risk of developing age-adjusted by 42 per cent compared with those who exercised less than once a week. The results were particularly significant in subjects who were overweight.
Whether it is weight training or aerobic activity, physical activity can help you manage your insulin levels. Research with athletes have shown that the benefits can be harvested with just 7 days of training.
But there is a catch: you need to keep exercising to reap the benefits of better glucose control.
A number of studies show that whatever benefits you have can be lost very quickly if you stop getting active for as few as 10 days.
The research shows clearly that a physically active lifestyle must be maintained for the protective benefits to be sustained. Exercises that involve large muscle groups such as walking, swimming and weight training are useful. To maximise what you can gain out of workout, choose those that you enjoy, are comfortable with, and which you can bring a buddy along for.
- Ivy, J, Zdervic, T, & Fogt, D (1999). Prevention and Treatment of Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus. Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews, 27: 1-35.
- Michael Chia. Health Education For Schools in Singapore (in review).
Date reviewed: 28 February 2005