Irrespective of age and gender, diabetes continues to plague our society and is one of the biggest epidemics faced by the world today. Although, scientific and technological advances have transformed our world to a great extent, they are all partly responsible for making our lives sedentary, thus making comfort a priority over health.
Despite the fact that ample amount of scientific evidence supports the benefits of losing weight by increasing the amount of physical activity and adapting healthy eating habits on preventing or delaying the onset of diabetes, the rate of diabetes has been sky-rocketing due to inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle that most of us lead.
A study conducted on high-risk adults by the Diabetes Prevention Program has shown a 58% reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by merely decreasing 5-7% of the body weight, through moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day and a healthy diet. As opposed to Type 1 diabetes, which is chiefly a genetically inherited disorder, Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, results from poor eating habits and lack of physical activity.
How Does Physical Activity Affect Blood Sugar Levels?
Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin is the primary hormone involved in facilitating the movement of glucose into the cells, where it serves as the main source of energy for carrying out cellular reactions. Inability of the pancreatic beta cells to synthesize sufficient amounts of insulin or the development of resistance to insulin by the body’s cells leads to the accumulation of glucose in the bloodstream.
Physical activity serves as an alternative to diabetic medications by mimicking the role of insulin of mobilizing glucose molecules and transporting them into the cells. Therefore, moderate physical activity can dramatically improve insulin sensitivity of the cells by enhancing their ability to utilize insulin, thereby lowering blood sugar levels.
Increases Muscle Weight
In particular, weight training exercises and cardio aim at reducing body fat and increasing muscle weight. The newly gained muscles constantly require ATP, which are packets of energy released by the metabolism of glucose, for its contraction and relaxation.
This allows your body to utilize more and more glucose at a consistent rate, thereby preventing the levels of glucose from mounting up in the bloodstream.
Strengthens Bones, Muscles and Joints
Diabetic neuropathy, a condition characterized by considerable damage to the nerves innervating the lower limb and feet, afflicts about 80% of diabetic patients. Also, myopathies or the weakening of muscles in the legs is not uncommon among diabetic patients. It manifests in the form of tingling, numbness and muscle pain in the legs that in turn, poses maximum hindrance for diabetic patients to carry out their day-to-day activities.
A physically active lifestyle not only aids in strengthening your bones, but also helps in increasing your joint flexibility and muscle power. Moreover, it improves blood circulation in the body, thus keeping your muscles healthy by providing them with adequate levels of oxygen and nutrients. Hence, lower limb amputations that occur due to diabetes can be prevented by adapting a physically active lifestyle.
Keeps Stress at Bay
Stress acts as one of the major contributing factors for increased blood sugar levels and reduced insulin sensitivity. Under stress, the adrenal glands pump out excess of cortisol, a hormone that enables the liver to laden the bloodstream with glucose, thus energizing and preparing the body to fight against an injury or flee in response to a threat.
This mechanism proves advantageous when the body responds to stress by physically exerting and utilizing the glucose as a means to fuel muscles. However, most of us are afflicted by mental stress, which only accumulates glucose in the blood, eventually making the cells resistant to insulin.
Therefore, physical activity serves as the best way of dealing with stress by enabling your body to utilize the excess amounts of glucose released in the blood. Moreover, a person under stress becomes very susceptible to taking the aid of comfort foods to relieve stress, which are laden with sugar and saturated fat.
This further aggravates the symptoms of diabetes by accumulating abdominal fat and high levels of LDL cholesterol, which are both detrimental for your heart. In contrast, physical activity not only reduces your craving for sugar laden foods, but also helps your body metabolize sugar at a faster rate, thus mitigating the symptoms associated with diabetes.
Averts the Long-Term Risks Associated with Diabetes
In addition to keeping blood sugar levels under control, physical activity plays a major role in speeding up the metabolism of cholesterol, thus aiding in preventing the long-term risks like heart failure associated with diabetes. In fact, physical activity not only enhances the ability of the liver to metabolize low-density cholesterol (LDL) or bad cholesterol at a faster rate, but also increases the production of high-density cholesterol ( HDL) or good cholesterol. Also, physical activity aids in lowering blood pressure, thereby lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
With all the aforementioned advantages that physical activity confers on managing the symptoms and health risks of diabetes, the medical and scientific community has witnessed a paradigm shift from the traditional ways of diabetic treatment with pharmaceutical drugs, medical procedures and hospitalization to incorporating healthy habits as a means to manage diabetes and improve the quality of our lives.
Ways of Increasing Physical Activity
Scientists have reported that five minutes of aerobic exercise is potent enough to stimulate the release of endorphins and promote sleep, which in turn, reduces stress and controls blood sugar levels. Hence, moderate aerobic exercise, walking briskly for about 30 minutes a day, running, jogging, swimming, cycling or even taking your pet out for a walk has a great impact on keeping your blood sugar levels within the normal range.
In fact, performing daily chores, cleaning your house, playing with kids, taking the stairs instead of taking the elevator, gardening, walking while talking over the phone are much easier ways of leading a physically active life and reducing your risk of developing diabetes.
Advantages of Physical Activity Over Medications for Treating Diabetes
Even though, diabetes has no cure, a combinatorial approach can help you manage its symptoms and keep its long-term complications like heart disease, hepatic and liver failure, retinopathy and neuropathy at bay. Although, there is a huge market for injectable insulin and anti-diabetic drugs, these medications are not only expensive, but are also associated with unwanted side effects. Hence, physical activity serves as an economical and a safe way of improving your overall health.
To sum it up, increasing levels of stress, depletion of essential nutrients from food grown using fertilizers and pesticides and craving for junk foods as a means to beat stress, serves as the major contributing factors for the rise in obesity, which is directly linked with the increase in the rate of incidence of Type 2 diabetes. Hence, lifestyle modifications involving a consistent increase in physical exercise can help mobilize sugar in the blood and considerably lower your risk of developing diabetes.