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Exercise After Meals Helps Control Blood Sugar

Study Shows Improvement in Blood Sugar Levels of Type 1 Diabetes Patients Who Exercise After Meals
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 27, 2011 (San Diego) -- Even a little physical activity after meals has a profound impact on blood sugar levels for people with type 1 diabetes, preliminary research suggests.

"We were surprised at our findings," says Mayo Clinic endocrinologist Yogish Kudva, MBBS.

People with diabetes who engaged in basic physical activity after eating had blood sugar levels close to those of people without the condition, the study showed. Those who remained sedentary after meals had elevated blood sugar levels.

"You don't have to exercise a lot. Just walking the dog or washing the dishes after a meal, rather than going straight from the table to the TV, helps blood sugar control in people with type 1 diabetes," Kudva tells WebMD. "Physical activity enhances insulin action, hence lowering blood glucose concentration."

Exercise and Diabetes

About 3 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, which is usually diagnosed in childhood or young adulthood. It's an autoimmune disease in which the body destroys its own ability to make insulin, which is needed to properly regulate blood sugar.

For the study, the researchers monitored 14 people without diabetes and seven people with type 1 diabetes over a four-day period at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Participants were given three identical meals each day. After one meal each day, participants laid in bed for six hours. After the other meals, they engaged in physical activity. Overall, participants walked at a moderate pace for an average of 3 to 4 miles a day, "about the same as the average American," Kudva says.

The sugars in one meal a day were labeled with a safe tracing dye so the researchers could measure how much sugar from food went in and how much came out.

The findings were presented here at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association.

Checking Blood Sugar Levels

Among people without diabetes, post-meal blood glucose levels increased an average of 50 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) if they exercised after eating. That is what we like to see in healthy people," Kudva says. Readings increased by up to 100 mg/dL if they were inactive.

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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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