If you have been told your blood sugar (glucose) is too high, you probably have also been told to exercise. But why? Knowing how exercise helps lower blood sugar levels is a key for staying motivated to exercise regularly. Let’s take a look at the inside story of exercise and blood sugars.
Sticky Blood: When sugar gets wet, it gets sticky. One of the biggest problems with having high blood sugars is that sugar makes blood “sticky”. When sugar is at higher levels in your blood for too long, it is concerning because that “sticky” blood is now traveling to every part of your body. This is why diabetes puts you at risk for so many different medical issues. Nearly every part of the body is strained when blood sugars are high; your kidneys, your nerves, your eyes, etc.
Natural blood sugar management: Two of the most important ways your body is designed to move sugar out of your blood after you eat is (1) the movement system (2) the insulin system. The movement system is meant to be the main system for keeping blood sugar from getting too high. The insulin system is designed to be your back up system, for use when you are not moving.
When you move:
- your body uses the sugar in your blood to help fuel moving muscles
- your body is able to use its own insulin more efficiently. After exercise, your body is more sensitive to its own insulin, making this back up system work better for hours after exercise.
When you don’t move often:
- your main (movement) system for managing blood sugars is not available
- your body needs to use the back up (insulin) system to bring sugar into cells to be stored as fat
- over time your back up (insulin) system gets overused and can ‘wear out’
When you have type II diabetes, your body is resistant to insulin, causing sugar and insulin build up in your blood. When you move your body, you activate the main natural system for lowing your blood sugar. Exercise then, temporarily reverses the cause of type II diabetes.
Not all movement is created equal. However, if you move all day for your job or for child care, your movement system could be counteracted by another system – the stress system. When you are moving but stressed, your body releases more sugar into your blood. That means the movement system cannot do its job as effectively. This is what sets exercise apart from your every day physical activities. Exercise is when you are moving for the purpose of self-care. When movement reduces, rather than increases stress, it is able to do its job of lower blood sugars.
Plus, exercise has GREAT side effects. The bonus is, exercise also helps you manage diabetes in other ways too:
- Think clearly: Moving your body can help your brain function better, giving you a better mood, focus and ability to make healthy choices
- Health protection: Regular exercisers have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke. When you have diabetes you are at greater risk for health concerns, so the extra protection from exercise comes in very handy.
- Weight management: Exercise (specifically strength training) counteracts the metabolism lowering effect of dieting by keeping your muscles strong and functioning well while losing weight.
- Improved sleep: When sleep deprived, the stress response in the body is triggered, raising blood sugar and making weight loss more difficult. Using exercise to improve sleep has a ripple effect to many other parts of your life.
- Reduce Arthritis pain: stronger muscles around joints can decrease arthritis pain and make moving easier. Less pain means you can move more and moving more helps keep blood sugar in check.
- Reduce Back Pain: The job of the core is to protect the spine from wear and tear. Exercises that teach the core muscles to do their job in a functional way can reduce back pain. Plus, stretching in a way that helps to improve tolerance of things like bending and lifting and helps the body recover from strains of daily life can reduce back pain flare ups. Again, less pain, more movement, better blood sugar control.
- Counteracts depression, anxiety, and improves mood and focus: Exercise, when used properly, has been shown to be very effective as part of a treatment plan for depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other areas of mental health. Living with a disease like diabetes can be overwhelming at times and can affect mood. Exercise can help boost your ability to cope with the stress and pressures of having diabetes
Bottom line: Moving your body, in a way that reduces stress, activates the natural blood sugar management system in your body. Keep moving to keep this system working for you and your health.
Keep Moving, Be Well,