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Diabetes Health Center

From the American College of Sports Medicine

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July 27, 2000 -- If you have diabetes, you worry constantly about your blood sugar (also called blood glucose) level because you know you suffer when that level goes higher or lower than normal. There are only three things that can directly affect your blood sugar level: food, insulin (either made by your pancreas or introduced into your body from outside), and exercise. This article is about the ways exercise can positively impact your diabetic condition.

Exercise for Treatment and Prevention

If you think that having diabetes will prevent you from having a fully active lifestyle and doing exercises to minimize the effects of the disease, consider all the athletes who have diabetes, including NFL quarterback Wade Wilson and 1950s tennis star Bill Talbert. Diabetes, whether insulin-dependent type 1 or non-insulin dependent type 2, is not a condition that prevents you from being as active as you want to be. The bottom line is that exercise will probably help you keep your diabetes under control because it lowers your blood sugar level, enhances the action of insulin, helps with weight loss, and improves your cardiovascular system.

The point about improving your cardiovascular system is especially important because cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of people with diabetes. In the long run, improving the condition of your heart and circulatory system may be the most important reason for people with diabetes to exercise regularly.

Numerous studies show that regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, improves the ability of your body to metabolize sugar. That is true even if there is not an accompanying weight loss. There is a possibility that exercise may cause a temporary drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), but that doesn?t stop the millions of individuals with diabetes who enjoy the benefits of exercise. Many find that eating some carbohydrates (hard candy, for example) and/or adjusting their insulin dosage prevents blood sugar fluctuations during exercise. To be active and safe, talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine or making changes in your food intake or medication level.

Non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, often called type 2 diabetes, affects about 10 million Americans, or about 90% of all people with diabetes. Dalynn Badenhop, PhD, a member of the cardiology faculty at the Medical College of Ohio and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, reports that more than half of the patients with type 2 diabetes that he has studied showed decreased blood sugar levels after they began regular exercise programs. Some of those patients who were taking insulin lowered their blood sugar levels so much that they were able to reduce their insulin dosage. Badenhop says unequivocally, "Exercise is definitely therapeutic for people with type 2 diabetes."

It is no surprise then that the NIH and the American Diabetes Association both recommend regular exercise in combination with diet modifications for patients with type 2 diabetes. From all the evidence, people with type 2 diabetes who exercise regularly in addition to observing proper diets are better able to control blood sugar levels and reduce complications related to cardiovascular disease.

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Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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