While not strictly necessary to beat your diabetes, exercise can be an immense help in controlling your blood glucose levels. But what kinds of exercise are best for type 2 diabetics and how much exercise do you need?
You can beat your diabetes by adhering rigorously to a diet that is low in fat, low in sugar, low in salt, and high in fibre. It should consist mainly of plants and other foods with low glycemic index values. You also need to drink plenty of water.
When you switch to a diet like this, eliminating all fat from your food as far as possible, it takes three to four weeks before your after-meal blood glucose readings start going down. At the same time you will probably begin to lose weight.
After six weeks or so your type 2 diabetes will have ‘reversed’, ie your blood glucose levels will be no worse than a pre-diabetic and may even have reduced to the levels of someone who is diabetes free.
However you still have diabetes. The difference is that you have it under control.
But if you relax your diet, you will begin getting high readings of your blood sugar and A1c levels.
When I first started this diabetes-beating diet, I did not do any exercise at all. I managed to gain control of my diabetes without the aid of exercise.
I have since discovered that exercise can indeed be of help in controlling blood glucose levels. This is because when you are doing continuous moderate exercise (such as walking) your muscles are taking in glucose at a rate that is up to 20 times more than their normal rate.
This naturally reduces the level of glucose in your blood.
In fact, if you do enough of the right kinds of exercise you should be able to relax the strict diet you are following just a little bit.
The big questions are:
- what exercises are appropriate for type 2 diabetics and
- how much exercise do you need to help control your blood glucose levels?
Exercise needs of diabetics
You need, as a minimum, 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise at least 5 (preferably 7) days a week.
The exercise you do can be walking, swimming, dancing, mowing the lawn and so on, ie something that makes your heart beat faster but that does not take you to your limits.
You also need to do some strength-training exercises … about two sessions a week. During these sessions you should work all your major muscle groups: arms, legs, shoulders, back, abs and glutes.
If you have seldom exercised over the past few years, it might be a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning.
Then you can start with a simple 15 minute walk twice a day, after which you can build up over time to longer and more challenging workouts.
Once you are into the swing of things, start thinking about how you can make yourself more active throughout the day. It’s easy.
For example, you could lift weights during the ad breaks on TV, wash the car by hand instead of going through the auto-wash system at the petrol (gas) station, or take the dog on an extra long walk.
Your imagination will help you find many ways to build exercise into your lifestyle.
Protecting your feet
As a type 2 diabetic, it is likely that you have or are beginning to experience problems with your feet.
These problems may include diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage due to diabetes), circulation problems and a lack of sensation in your feet.
Any of these conditions can desensitise your feet and make it harder to feel pain. As a result you can damage your feet without noticing it at first.
Thus you need to check your feet for blisters, cuts, sores and so on every night before going to bed, even on days in which you did not do any exercise. Any problems should be treated without delay.
To protect yourself you need to wear a good pair of runners or athletic shoes. The best kinds have a layer of gel in the soles which is very good at absorbing the shocks of walking on cement or other hard surfaces.
You should also wear thick cotton socks to prevent your feet from being chaffed by the insides of the footwear.
Monitoring blood glucose
Strictly speaking you need to monitor you blood sugar levels both before and after exercising.
If your glucose level is less than 5.6mmol/l (100mg/l) before you start you should perhaps have a quick snack of fruit or crackers.
Whatever the exercise you are doing, you should stop and check your blood glucose level if:
- you begin to feel shaky, weak, or confused
- you sweat more than normal for that kind of exercise
- your heart starts racing
- you are developing a headache
These could be signs that your blood sugar is dropping too low. This can happen while you are exercising or even during the first few hours after you finish exercising.
You should keep some fast-acting snacks on hand, such as a few glucose tabs, some hard candy (boiled sweets), a small packet of raisins or fruit juice, so that you can raise your blood glucose level quickly should it fall too low while you are doing your thing.