My colleagues in graduate school used to laugh at me when I would explicitly mention Type 2 Diabetes as my favourite illness. I was not making light of this illness that has been on the rise for the past 10 years and which is beginning to affect young children and teenagers. Type 2 Diabetes is my favourite illness because I know exercise can have a positive impact on preventing, managing and even reversing the disease.
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
When you eat, your body breaks down food to sugar and this process activates the pancreas to release the hormone insulin. Many of the cells in the body have insulin receptors which bind to insulin and allow the sugar to be taken up by the cells. Insulin is secreted when a high amount of sugar is detected in the blood. When someone eats a lot of sugar, the insulin receptors in the cells become damaged, causing problems in detecting the presence of insulin and sugar in the blood to arise. When this happens, the body is forced to produce a higher amount of insulin in order to get the sugar into the cells. Over time, this process leads to a condition known as ¡°insulin resistance¡± which later develops into Type 2 Diabetes. People who have Type 2 Diabetics generally have higher levels of insulin and sugar in the blood compared to non-diabetics.
Some Good News
Exercise truly is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. Anytime you exercise, your body is able to signal sugar uptake into the cells independently from insulin. In other words, contracting the muscles does the same job of insulin. As you decrease your reliance on insulin, you improve your blood sugar levels and give time for your cells to heal. Regular exercise also contributes to weight loss which helps correct many cardiovascular risk factors.
The Benefits of Exercise
A recent study published in Diabetes Care (2005) investigated the health benefits of following a resistance-training program for 16 weeks, twice a week in Type 2 Diabetic men without following a weight loss diet. In 16 weeks, the men in the study showed improvements in their body¡¯s response to insulin, the resting sugar levels and their total abdominal health. What is important to note is that the favourable changes in the men¡¯s health occurred without modifying their diet, proving that exercise is an extremely powerful health modulator when completed in regular intervals. Modifying the diets of the participants with a larger quantity of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein would have probably contributed to weight loss and even further gains in health.
What is the Bottom Line?
True management of Type 2 Diabetes cannot occur without exercise. Our bodies have an internal system that gives the pancreas a break from constantly secreting one of the most valuable hormones in the body. Insulin is so valuable that a complete shut-down of the pancreas, such as the one that occurs in Type I Diabetics (Type 2 can lead to Type I), would require daily injections of insulin.
Exercise is great for your health and for your mind. It helps manage your weight and reduces the risk of numerous cardiovascular risk factors. It doesn¡¯t take much time or effort, just 2 to 3 workouts per week makes an enormous difference in your overall health.