Time to answer the wakeup call

Published 7:58 pm Friday, March 18, 2016

Mark your calendars: Tuesday, March 22, is the American Diabetes Association “Alert Day” for diabetes. This day is intended to be a wakeup call for the American population about the seriousness of diabetes in our world today.

According to the American Diabetes Association, close to 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes and nearly 86 million people are already categorized as prediabetic with a high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. That is 116 million people, children and adults, who have or are on their way to having diabetes. With those statistics, it is safe to say that we need to wake up and be more aware of this epidemic sweeping our nation.

Diabetes occurs when your blood glucose, also known as blood sugar, is too high for an extended period of time. This can either happen because your body is not producing enough of the hormone insulin, or your body is not able to use the insulin that it produces effectively. Since insulin allows cells to absorb glucose, then when insulin is not present or does not function properly, blood sugars will rise. Most often, people living with diabetes use diabetes medications prescribed by their doctor and healthy nutrition habits to combat their disease. What most people neglect to do on a day-to-day basis to help manage their disease is exercise and remain physically active. Exercise can be as effective as medication and diet when it comes to managing diabetes, and it is imperative to remember that exercise is medicine.

Physical activity and exercise hold many benefits when it comes to managing diabetes. Some benefits of physical activity and exercise are lower blood pressure and cholesterol, weight loss, stress relief, improved circulation, stronger muscles and bones and improved sleep. A handful of these benefits also attribute to lowering your risk for heart disease and stroke. Becoming active can be as simple as doing yard work or taking a walk around the neighborhood, but could also involve becoming a member at a gym or working with a personal trainer. It is recommended that we are physically active for 30-60 minutes every day to receive the full benefits mentioned earlier.

Exercise can help to lower blood glucose during and after exercise in two ways: by increasing the body’s insulin sensitivity or by creating a mechanism for muscles to take in glucose and use it for energy with or without the availability of insulin. When our body’s insulin sensitivity is increased, our cells are able to readily absorb any glucose that is in our blood stream. When we become active, our muscles are also able to perform an insulin-like process in which glucose can enter our muscles and be burned for energy. Exercise, then, can help to lower blood glucose whether you suffer from insulin resistance or if your body does not create enough insulin.

Since exercise decreases blood glucose, it is important to monitor your blood sugar before, during and after exercise. You should always make sure that your blood sugar is within a safe range before you begin exercising and that you maintain that safe range throughout and after your bout of exercise. Generally speaking, a safe pre-exercise blood sugar range would be between 100-250 mg/dL. If you are unsure about where your blood sugar should be, consult your doctor before becoming physically active. If your blood sugar is below 100 mg/dL before exercising, you should eat a small snack and recheck your blood sugar 15-20 minutes later to make sure it is within range before beginning your workout.

One benefit that takes place post-exercise is that our bodies can continue to respond to exercise for up for 24 hours, which means that it is extremely important to check your blood sugar regularly. Since our bodies become more responsive to insulin and therefore use up more glucose for energy, it is not unlikely that our blood sugar may get too low, which is also called hypoglycemia. If you become hypoglycemic during or after exercise, it is important to have 15-20 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrates, such as a sports drink or glucose tablets, immediately. After 15-20 minutes you should recheck your blood sugar. If it is still low, you can have another 15-20 grams of carbohydrates. Once your blood sugar is back in range, it is important to have your meals and medications as normal for the rest of the day.

Exercise can be supplemental to diabetes medications and healthy eating, and has added benefits such as improved mood and overall wellbeing. If you have questions or concerns regarding becoming physically active, please consult a fitness professional.

Audrey Taylor, BS, is an exercise specialist at Vidant Wellness Center of Washington and can be reached at 252-975-4236.