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Experts: Exercise Crucial for Patients With Type 2 Diabetes

150 Minutes Per Week of Intense Exercise Can Improve Blood Sugar, Insulin Levels
By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 10, 2010 -- New guidelines jointly issued by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association call for people with type 2 diabetes to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise over the course of at least three days during the week, and not to skip more than two days of exercising.

Strength training, using weights to develop muscle mass, is also important in diabetes management. Resistance training should be part of a diabetes patient’s exercise regimen, according to the new guidelines, which are published in the December issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Exercise is critical to reducing the risk of diabetes, as well as helping people with diabetes improve insulin and blood sugar production. Exercise may also improve a diabetes patient’s lipid profile, such as lowering the levels of cholesterol and other fats in the blood, and also lead to losing weight.

The authors of the guidelines note that sustained intensity and duration of aerobic activity is important and may likely achieve biological effects that cannot be achieved from mild physical activity alone. Patients with type 2 diabetes may be hesitant to exercise, but the authors say the benefits far outweigh potential risks and that doctors play a role in encouraging diabetic people to exercise.

“Many physicians appear unwilling or cautious about prescribing exercise to individuals with type 2 diabetes for a variety of reasons, such as excessive body weight or the presence of health-related complications,” says Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, FACSM, an exercise physiologist and professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., who chaired the writing group. “However, the majority of people with type 2 diabetes can exercise safely, as long as certain precautions are taken. The presence of diabetes complications should not be used as an excuse to avoid participation in physical activity.”

Recently, the CDC reported that as many as one in three Americans could have diabetes by 2050. About 24 million people in the U.S. have diabetes and 60 million are estimated to have prediabetes, a condition in which blood sugar and insulin are approaching abnormal levels. One in three Americans born in 2000 are estimated to develop diabetes later in life.

A great deal of research supports exercise as a way to reduce the risk of diabetes, as well as manage the condition once it’s diagnosed. However, experts say too few Americans, diabetic or not, get enough regular aerobic physical activity.

“If current trends go unabated,” said Colberg, “we are in fact doomed to higher health care costs and drastically reduced quality and length of life due to diabetes-related complications such as heart disease and kidney failure. As individuals, as communities and as part of a nation and world, we have to work collectively to stop diabetes before it stops us.”

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