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Diabetes tips: Exercise to manage the disease

Linda Melone, CSCS, is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and certified personal trainer based in Orange County, CA. Visit her website at www.LindaMelone.com.

Exercise tips to prevent diabetes

If the word "diabetes" conjures visions of nursing homes and out-of-shape people, you may be in for a surprise. About 215,000 people younger than 20 years old had diabetes in the U.S. in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fame doesn't give you a free pass, either. Famous people with diabetes include rocker Bret Michaels, actress Halle Berry and pro golfer Michelle McGann. All must work to keep their blood sugar under control. Here's how exercise can help you manage diabetes.

Woman stretching before workout

How exercise helps control weight and blood sugar

Along with diet and medication (if needed), exercise keeps weight and blood sugar at healthy levels. Here's how it works.

When you eat ...

When you eat, normally your pancreas releases insulin as your blood sugar increases -- sort of like the paparazzi revving up when they hear Kim Kardashian is in town. Insulin stimulates the liver and muscles to take in excess glucose, which lowers blood sugar levels.

When you exercise ...

Exercising requires extra glucose for energy to fuel muscles. Continuous, moderate exercise -- such as that required by the paparazzi as they run to catch Kim -- can cause muscles to take up glucose at nearly 20 times the normal rate. This process lowers blood sugar levels. Even after the chase, the body replenishes the glucose stores (called glycogen) in muscle cells and the liver, which lowers blood sugar levels even more, for hours afterward.

Beware of intense exercise

Short, intense bursts of exercise may have the opposite effect, however. For example, if Kim decides to run out the back door and the paparazzi give chase suddenly, it can increase their stress hormone adrenaline. This stimulates the liver to release extra glucose into the bloodstream. This isn't good news for diabetics. Blood sugar can also be a problem if it's too high to start (usually over 250 mg/dL), indicating low insulin activity. When this occurs, your doctor may recommend taking in a bit of extra insulin after such intense exercise.

Exercise recommendations to manage diabetes

Paparazzi or not, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends the following if you have type 2 diabetes.

  • Always consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program to discuss monitoring your blood sugar before and after exercise.
  • Set a goal to burn 1,000 calories through exercise and physical activity each week. How you get there depends on your weight and current fitness level, but this generally involves three to seven days a week of low- to moderate-intensity exercise (walking, biking, hiking, swimming, etc.) for 20 to 60 minutes. Daily works best. If weight loss is your goal, double these recommendations, working up to them gradually.
  • Perform resistance-training exercises a minimum of two days per week, targeting major muscle groups -- back, legs, chest, arms -- for one set of 10 to 15 repetitions at low to moderate intensity.
  • Stretch major muscle groups at least two to three days a week, holding for 15 to 30 seconds, two to four repetitions on each stretch.

More on diabetes

Tips to prevent diabetes-related complications in aging parents
4 Steps to prevent diabetes in kids
Diet tips to prevent Type 2 diabetes

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