Jennifer Smallridge, AEP
“If exercise could be purchased in a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation.” —Robert H. Butler
As an exercise physiologist, many patients I see havereceived a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, without a very clear understanding of what is happening on the inside. The good news is, pre-diabetes and even type 2 diabetesare preventable, and highly reversible conditions – with the right advice.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes:
Although there is a strong genetic predisposition for type 2 diabetes, the risk is greatly increased when associated with lifestyle factors such as high blood pressure, overweight or obesity, insufficient physical activity, poor diet and the classic ‘apple shape’ body where extra weight is carried around the waist.
While there is no single cause of type 2 diabetes, there are well-established risk factors. Some risk factors can be controlled and others you are born with.
You are at a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes if you:
What is actually happening when you have type 2 diabetes?
Every time someone eats food containing carbohydrates, the body breaks it down into the simplest form for energy – glucose. Glucose can be taken out of the blood stream and stored or used in 3 places: the muscles, the liver, and the brain.
The standard method of entry into these sites is via insulin, a specialised hormone produced by the pancreas, acting like a key to open the door. In people with type 2 diabetes, insulin firstly is overproduced, to clear glucose out of the blood, and after a while the body stops recognising it as a valid key at the storage sites.
What are the dangers of having high blood glucose?
When type 2 diabetes is ‘poorly controlled’, and blood glucose is high for a long time, it can damage the blood vessels – particularly the small ones (eyes, feet, kidneys, heart). Common consequences of this include diabetic retinopathy (which could lead to blindness), kidney disease, peripheral neuropathy (altered sensation in the feet), and diseases of the heart.
How can exercise help?
In conjunction with diet and medication where needed, exercise is a great adjunct therapy for type 2 diabetes because it works on the disease at many levels, slowing down its progression.
The main reason is this: every time you exercise, particularly using big muscle groups (for example, resistance training), the muscles open up their doors and let glucose in without the presence of insulin.
This favourable response lasts for around 24-48 hours, depending on the type of exercise and the individual. Regular, structured exercise will also reduce body fat, protect against heart disease, and improve energy and mood.