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Exercise Physiology and Diabetes: "How Exercise Physiologists are helping those with Diabetes in 2024”


Exercise Physiologist with client

1. Exercise Physiology for Diabetes:

Exercise Physiology is the science of Anatomy and Physiology. Exercise Physiologists have the understanding of how to apply this knowledge to help you achieve better health. Diabetes is a disease where the body cannot regulate the amount of sugar in the blood. This occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates glucose levels in the blood) or can't use the insulin it’s body produces due to resistance caused by lifestyle factors or genetics (Type 2 Diabetes). Stay Active Longer has helped hundreds of patients with Type 2 diabetes, get stronger, fitter and healthier through tailored exercise prescription and lifestyle changes. Let’s hop in!

2. Understanding Diabetes:

What are the types of Diabetes (Type 1, Type 2, Gestational)?

There are 3 types of Diabetes. 

Type 1 Diabetes, which occurs earlier in age, is when the body attacks and destroys its own insulin producing cells in the pancreas. As a result, people with Type 1 Diabetes will need to administer their own insulin to maintain stable blood sugar levels. 

Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic health condition which arises as a result of risk factors such as poor diet, lack of physical activity and obesity which can create insulin resistance and the body can no longer respond effectively to insulin. Although it can occur at any age, it is more commonly developed in adulthood.

Gestational Diabetes is diabetes that develops during pregnancy, usually in the 2nd or 3rd Trimesters. When the body cannot produce enough insulin to meet the demands during pregnancy it can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and as a result can lead to insulin resistance. 

What are the basics of blood sugar regulation?

Maintaining good levels of sugar in the body is essential for life and for preventing  complications from Diabetes. Glucose is the primary energy source fuelling the needs of our bodies for necessary function. Even the slightest change to one’s blood sugar can affect memory, concentration and well-being. 

Extremely low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can cause dizziness and altered consciousness whereas persistent levels of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can cause damage to the blood vessels, nerves and organs.

So it is vital that stable blood sugar levels are maintained to prevent ill health. A normal fasting blood glucose test is a level between 70 and 100 mg/dL (3.9 and 5.6 mmol/L). Values outside this range will need to be addressed. 

Impact of diabetes on overall health:

Left untreated, diabetes can cause organ and systemic disease. The severity and extent will vary person to person due to factors such as diabetic management and other individual factors. 

Some of the impacts of diabetes can include: - Blindness - Foot Ulcers which can be slow to heal and prone to infections as a result of poor circulation and nerve damage
- Increased risks of other comorbidities like cardiovascular disease and stroke  - Diabetic Nephropathy - damage to the kidneys which may require the need for dialysis or kidney transplantation   - Neuropathy - feelings of tingling and numbness in hands and feet - Weakened immune system  - Depression and anxiety  - Altered metabolism and hormones can contribute to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

The list is extensive! Therefore, good diabetes management and blood sugar control is vital to help reduce the risk and severity of any of these complications that can arise as a result of Diabetes. Regular communication with healthcare professionals is crucial for individuals with diabetes to monitor and address any potential health issues.

3. Benefits of Exercise for Diabetes:

So what does exercise physiology and diabetes have to do with one another? How can Exercise Physiologists help with Disease Management? What role do they play in your healthcare plan?

Exercise has proven abilities to help the body use insulin more effectively and reduce insulin resistance. In addition, regular exercise can promote the uptake of glucose by the muscles and help with blood sugar control.

The exercises prescribed to you by your Exercise Physiologist will not only help you build and maintain lean muscle mass which contributes to improved metabolic health and insulin sensitivity, but is known to also reduce stress levels, a contributor to abnormal blood sugar levels. 

We know that physical activity burns calories and therefore plays an effective role in weight control. But did you know utilising energy in this way is very important for managing insulin sensitivity and reducing the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes? So regardless of whether or not you are someone whose blood test has shown elevated levels of blood glucose, exercise will help you manage and prevent Diabetes. The link between exercise physiology and diabetes, in that the prescription of exercise physiology to a patient with diabetes is one that is valid and recognised by most General Practitioners. GPs will often provide their patients with referrals or recommend exercise physiologists as part of their treatment management plan.

Our expert Exercise Physiologists will take you through chosen activities designed to improve your blood circulation to help deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout your body. Better still, exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, leaving you feeling in a better mood when you’re done with your session. 

4. Exercise Prescription for Diabetes:

Once you are cleared for Exercise by your GP, our Exercise Physiologists will prescribe exercises that are safe and appropriate for you to meet your individual needs, preferences and fitness levels so that you can reap the maximum benefits during physical activity while minimising potential risks of injury. 
The types of exercises will involve a combination of Aerobic and Strength training to help you build cardiovascular capacity, muscle strength and endurance. It is really recommended that you check your blood sugar levels before and after exercise, especially if you take insulin or medications that reduce blood sugar.

The recommended duration and frequency of aerobic exercise such as walking or running is at least 150 minutes per week across 3-4 days. We say to aim for 60-70% of your maximum heart rate so moderate intensity aerobic exercise.  

The recommended duration and frequency of strength training exercises which target major muscle groups is 2 or more days a week, aiming for 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions per exercise. Use a weight or resistance that allows 8-12 repetitions in good form before fatigue sets in.

Your exercise physiologist will gradually progress the intensity and duration of the exercises as your fitness improves to continue to stimulate the muscles and body so that you may benefit from higher levels of functional capacity and performance so you can move and feel your best self.  

Please remember that the above recommendations are guidelines and variations will apply for every individual. Always seek personal advice from Healthcare Professionals to ensure that the exercise prescription aligns with individual health needs and goals. 

5. Precautions and Considerations for Diabetes and Exercise:

Before commencing in a new exercise program, please consult your GP to get clearance. It is important to recognise the signs of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia for individuals with diabetes so that prompt and appropriate action is taken. If you are unsure about symptoms or appropriate responses to symptoms then consulting with s healthcare professionals is crucial.
Our Exercise Physiologists are all First Aid trained and are able to recognise the following signs. 

Signs of Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar): - Shaking or Trembling - Sweating - Pale Skin - Tachycardia (increased heart rate) - Sudden mood change or feeling anxious - Weakness or Fatigue - Difficulty concentrating - Blurred vision - Headache

Actions to Take for Hypoglycemia: - Consume  a fast-acting source of glucose, such as fruit juice or jelly beans - Follow up with a longer-lasting carbohydrate meal such as whole grains  - Check blood sugar levels if possible. - If symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical attention.
Signs of Hyperglycemia (High Blood Sugar): - Frequent Urination - Increased Thirst
- Dry Mouth
- Fatigue
- Blurred Vision
- Headache
- Unexplained Weight Loss
- Slow-Healing Wounds
- Frequent Infections 
- Nausea and Vomiting
Actions to Take for Hyperglycemia: - Check blood sugar levels
- Follow the prescribed diabetes management plan ie adjust insulin or medication doses
- Stay well-hydrated by drinking water
- Engage in physical activity if blood sugar levels are within a safe range
- Seek medical attention if symptoms persist or worsen.

Regular blood sugar monitoring, adherence with medication doses, appropriate diabetic management plans with your healthcare team and lifestyle modifications are key components of diabetes management. 

6. Conclusion: 

It is now 2024 and we know that Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects many people world wide. Studies and evidence show that Exercise is a useful diabetes management strategy that works if one stays consistent. Our Exercise Physiologists at Stay Active Longer have helped numerous people with Diabetes, not just Type 2, get stronger, fitter and healthier through tailored exercise, assessments and lifestyle changes. So if you’re someone with Diabetes looking to improve your energy levels, mood and overall well being this year come see us at Stay Active Longer! All you need to do is call, book, bring a water bottle and wear appropriate shoes. Protect those feet from ulcers!


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