By: Susan Klick, MSN, RN, CNL Diabetes Educator
Aerobic exercises such as walking, cycling, swimming, and cycling are part of the focus in managing blood sugar for all diabetics. However, there is also much to gain from other forms of exercise such as resistance, balance, flexibility and strength training. These muscular fitness activities can slow the age-related loss of muscle mass and improve mobility, endurance and function. Resistance training exercises include weight machines, resistance bands, or the use of one’s own body weight as seen with pushups and squats. Because some of the main tissues in the body that are sensitive to insulin are the skeletal muscles; by increasing the amount and sensitivity of skeletal muscles with resistance exercise, many diabetics can better manage their blood glucose levels and weight by adding resistance training.
Performing resistance training two to three times per week and incorporating it with aerobics is most beneficial for type 2 diabetics. The combination of the two improves blood glucose control and reduces cardiovascular risk factors more than either type of exercise alone.
Those diabetics with balance issues have a higher risk of falling due to slower reaction times, and an unsteady gait. Diabetic related complications such as neuropathy, vision problems, and side effects from certain medications (lightheadedness for example) may contribute to the risk of falling. Many people who are at risk of falling develop a fear of falling, which further limits their activity level! These individuals can benefit from balance training, which can improve their gait and reduce their risk of falling. Tai Chi and Yoga exercise programs involve varies combinations of flexibility, balance, and resistance training. Lower-body and core strengthening exercises will also improve balance.
Flexibility is the ability to move our joints through a complete range of motion. Certain activities of daily living will require more flexibility than other ones. People with diabetes are more prone to develop changes in their joints that can limit movement. Stretching exercises help to increase flexibility, and it may be included as part of a physical activity program. It should not be used as a substitute for other training as its beneficial impact on blood sugar is unclear. Flexibility training combined with resistance training increases joint range of motion, and when combined with balance training can reduce the risk of falls. Remember though – time spent on flexibility does not count toward meeting the aerobic activity time guidelines of 30 minutes/day or 150 minutes/week.
Exercise is a vital component in managing diabetes. Ultimately, diabetics should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week, together with activities that build muscular strength two to three times per week. It is important to find activities that you enjoy and that you are able to perform safely. If you are unsure, check with your physician. St. Anthony’s Medical Center offers a variety of fitness classes Monday through Saturday at the Body, Mind, and Spirit Center in the Medical Plaza building. For more information on these classes visit stanthonysmedcenter.com
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