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Mind and Body Fitness

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The Psychological & Physical Benefits of Exercise

Why exercise - what's in it for me?

The results are in!! Exercise is good medicine!

Regular physical activity should be a part of almost everyone's daily routine - both young & old alike. The good news is it's not hard to live an active lifestyle &, with a little imagination, fitness can be fun!

What better time to start on your journey to fitness than now. The great outdoors can become your gym of unlimited adventure. Think about it. When was the last time you actually participated in a physically challenging situation? If it's been longer than a week, it's time for a change!

The benefits of being fit clearly outweigh the risks of being sedentary. In fact, the American Heart Association considers inactivity a risk for heart disease! That's right - living a sedentary lifestyle is just as bad for your heart & your health as being overweight, having high cholesterol or smoking! Hmmm - are you still sitting?

Exercise helps:

Improve diabetes control by increasing insulin sensitivity & it increases the body cells' use of glucose (which may decrease one's normal requirements of insulin &/or oral diabetes medications)

The heart becomes stronger & more efficient in its ability to pump blood & other nutrients throughout the body

Regulate blood pressure by making the heart pump more efficiently

Reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing low density lipoproteins ("bad cholesterol") & increases the high density lipoproteins ("good cholesterol")

Increase muscle tone & strength, which helps reduce the risk of injury when performing everyday activities

Maintain healthy bones (& weight-bearing exercise may even help increase bone density)

To achieve & maintain a healthy body weight

Improve self-esteem, body image & psychological well-being

Reduce stress, anxiety & depression, all in an effort to help you adopt a healthy lifestyle

A wonderful thing about exercise is its ability to positively effect both the body & the mind. Think about it. When your body aches or your mind is stressed, your ability to function is always affected to some extent. On the other hand, when you are in good physical condition & in the best of health, you're able to handle whatever the world puts your way.

The effect one's mood plays on diabetes control has recently received a fair amount of attention. People who are depressed, anxious or highly stressed appear to have the most difficult time controlling their blood glucose levels. This makes sense, since stress does cause a surge in adrenaline-like hormones, which in turn increase the liver's output of glucose.

**Exercise helps the body work much better & helps the body & mind handle stress **

Okay!! If exercise makes you feel better, which in turn improves your diabetes control, how can you justify not becoming more fit?!

Relax - you don't have to join a health club, pump heavy metal or hire a personal trainer to reap the benefits of physical activity. You merely need to DO SOMETHING!

Think about activities you enjoy & set aside time to do them. The list of activities is only as limited as you allow it to be.

If you enjoy the great outdoors, look at your surroundings. Mountains & lakes are great places for hiking, biking or kayaking. Sandy beaches are ideal for walking, volleyball & water sports. If team sports are more your style, join a recreational ball team --- better yet, recruit some colleagues & start your own. The key to your success is making it fun. Remember - the point is to reduce stress - not create it!

** Do something you enjoy! **

Before you begin, ask your health care provider if your physical condition limits your choice of activities in any way. Also ask about your medications & supplements.

There are prescription & over-the-counter drugs which can negatively affect your heart's response to exercise.

This is important for you to know. It is just as important to understand the mechanisms behind, as well as the timing of, your diabetes medications &/or insulin, if you have diabetes. Knowing this will provide a better foundation for understanding your body's unique response to physical activity.


Regular physical activity is not without its risks. Because of its ability to increase insulin sensitivity & improve blood glucose levels, individuals with diabetes do run the risk of hypoglycemia, both during & after an exercise session. This is especially true for individuals just becoming more active, who are unsure of how their body will respond to exercise.

If a reaction does occur, stop what you're doing & test your blood glucose. Follow by treating the reaction with the equivalent of 15 grams of carbohydrates. (See box below for 15gm suggestions) Wait 15 minutes & test again. Repeat treatment if necessary. At this point, it may be wise to take a few minutes, grab a small meal or snack & relax for a while. There's nothing worse than the wiped out feeling after a reaction!

15 gram CHO equivalents:

  • 4 ounces of fruit juice or apple sauce
  • 4 to 6 ounces of regular soda (NOT sugar free soda!!!)
  • 3 to 6 glucose tablets (Check label for actual CHO content)
  • 3 to 4 pieces of hard sugar sweetened candy small handful of jelly beans, gummy candies or fruit jellies (again - NOT sugar free!!!)
  • 1 cup of skim milk (2% & whole milk will not work as quickly because of the higher fat content)
  • 2 Tbls of honey, syrup or table sugar

(Note: Chocolate & other sweets with a high fat content will not work to increase blood sugar as quickly!)

Beware - it is equally as important for you to know that if your blood glucose level is over 250 to 300 mg/dl, it may be best to NOT participate in any physical activity. A blood glucose this high signifies there is not enough insulin in your system to push the glucose into the cells for energy. Exercise at this level can cause an increase in your blood glucose - not a decrease. To be sure, you can test your urine for ketones. If ketones are present, hold off on exercise until your blood sugar comes down.

It's always best to test your blood glucose level before you exercise. This is the only way to judge whether or not you should exercise or need a snack.

It is also advisable to test every 30 to 60 minutes after exercise for at least four hours. Exercise has a potential carry-over effect, which causes some individuals to use glucose more efficiently even hours after they've finished.

** Know your blood glucose levels **

Unfortunately, there are no straightforward guidelines to follow in regard to altering your medication to accommodate for exercise. Your health care provider may be able to offer some suggestions but, in all honestly, there are too many other factors involved to be sure. The way a person's body responds to exercise is unique to that person. Many factors are involved, which include the individual's:

fitness level
body composition
age
gender
overall health status
recent blood glucose control & so on.

A body's response during each session will also vary, depending on the blood glucose level before the session, the type of exercise(s) being performed & the length & intensity of the workout.

So you see, it's really not difficult to begin your personal journey to fitness. All you need is a little motivation & an inner desire to live a life of good health & you'll be on your way!

PS: The first three weeks will be the most difficult, when it comes to developing exercise as a habit, but hang in there. Once you get past this initial hump, your routine will be second nature! Good luck!

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