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Managing Diabetes with Exercise

WebMD Magazine - Feature

Two years ago, when Jennifer Auyer's father died at age 64 from complications related to type 2 diabetes, she faced a turning point in her own struggle with the disease.

Her father's diabetes had led to heart disease, a quadruple bypass, a foot amputation, and vision problems, among other serious health troubles. "It was a really painful experience, for him and for all of us," says Auyer, 40, of Nashua, N.H.

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Four years ago, she, too, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, shortly after giving birth to her child, Grace. "If I were to pass away in 20 years, where would my daughter be?" she asks.

Deciding to "Do Differently" with Type 2

When Auyer was growing up, she never saw her father, a heavy man, exercise. She had become overweight, too. In addition to caring for Grace, she commutes to Boston to work as director of sales for a hotel company. But she eventually decided her busy life could no longer be an excuse to keep from getting into shape.

"I said, 'I don't want to go through what he went through.' I was following the same path, and what am I going to do differently? I wanted to find something to help me. I was desperate."

When she found out about a weight loss and exercise class at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, she signed up fast. In the course, Jacqueline Shahar, MEd, a clinical exercise physiologist at Joslin, taught her to do the best exercises for people with type 2 diabetes.

Strength and Interval Training for Diabetes

For example, Auyer is now a believer in resistance training and works out with elastic bands to improve muscle strength. This form of strength training helps patients use glucose more efficiently, Shahar says. "If we can get them to do some resistance training, they're going to be able to increase their muscle mass so they're actually burning more glucose."

Other payoffs come, too. "They increase their metabolism and they lose weight," Shahar says. Resistance training also helps people with diabetes improve their cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and reduce abdominal fat. It benefits posture and helps strengthen muscles to prevent injuries.

In another big step, Auyer began interval training, which involves repeatedly mixing bouts of high-intensity aerobic activity with less intense work -- the segments are called "intervals." For example, you can pedal fast on a bike for 30 seconds, then go at a slower speed for 90 seconds. Altering the speed and intensity of the workout challenges the muscles, helping burn more calories, boost fitness, and improve insulin sensitivity, according to Shahar. "That's actually my favorite," Auyer says of interval training. "It keeps everything fast-paced and fresh."

At home, long stretches of treadmill walking bored her. But now, she'll walk on the treadmill for 10 minutes, then run for another few minutes. "Then I'll jump off and do the resistance bands for a few minutes, then squats or side steps, then maybe I'll jump back on the treadmill for 10 minutes," Auyer says. "The next thing you know, an hour has gone by, and I feel so invigorated."

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