By Daphne Baldwin Kornrich, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN
Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) is a chronic metabolic disease that affects the way the body utilizes glucose (sugar), which is the essential fuel our body needs to function and survive. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, is necessary to help deliver glucose to our cells. Individuals with T2DM may have an insulin deficiency and/or be insulin resistant, which means that their pancreas may not produce enough insulin, or their body is unable to utilize insulin properly. This interferes with the body’s ability maintain normal glucose levels (1,2,3).
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there has been a dramatic increase in the prevalence of T2DM with 23 million people in the United States diagnosed with diabetes (4). There is a strong correlation between T2DM and lifestyle factors such as our food consumption, exercise and activity levels. People at highest risk for developing diabetes have a family history and risk factors such as obesity and a sedentary lifestyle (2,3). To help decrease our risk of developing T2DM it is important to focus on the risk factors that we have control of, mainly our eating and activity habits. Many of us know how important dietary changes are, but many people are not aware of the importance physical activity has for glucose control (2,3).
Multiple scientific research studies have confirmed that exercise plays a crucial role in improving T2DM. Exercise improves glycemic control and can also improve insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin resistance by allowing cells to respond more efficiently to glucose, thereby allowing more glucose into the cells and out of the blood (1,3). Combining physical activity with weight loss has been shown to lower risk of T2DM by up to 58 percent in high-risk populations. Aerobic and resistance training have been shown to have the most benefits in the management of T2DM through improvement in insulin action (1,3,5). The American Diabetes Association recommends that adults with diabetes perform 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity with no more than two consecutive days without exercise, and that they include resistance training at least twice a week. Although physical activity is important in the prevention and management of T2DM, many with diabetes do not become or remain active (5).
It may have been a while since you joined a gym, or you may have time constraints that make it difficult to commit to a more structured exercise program. But even small changes in physical activity can result in big improvements in diabetes management, so why not take a walk? Walking helps improve how the body responds to insulin and also helps promote weight loss. This positive response can last for 24 hours. Walking has been shown to lower abdominal fat, which is linked to an increase in insulin resistance. Some research has shown that walking 30 minutes per day lowers the risk of diabetes.
Moving more throughout the day is another important strategy in increasing physical activity. Try walking while on the phone, take the stairs when possible, park further away and get up from your chair every hour to take a few minutes to walk around your office or home. Use an activity tracker on your smartphone or smartwatch or use a pedometer to monitor your daily steps. Try to increase gradually to reach a recommended goal of 10,000 steps per day.
Exercise is a not only a powerful tool but also an inexpensive way to improve not only diabetes but overall health! Check with your physician or medical team prior to starting any exercise or walking program to see if any adjustment in your diet or medications is needed.
- Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Fernhall B, et al. Exercise and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2010 Dec; 33(12): 2692–2696. Retrieved from https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/33/12/2692.full-text.pdf
- Type 2 diabetes. Mayo Clinic website. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20351193
- Exercise and type 2 diabetes. American Council on Exercise website. Retrieved from https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6644/exercise-and-type-2-diabetes
- National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/diabe tes/data/statistics/statistics-report.html
- Yanai H, Adachi H, Masui Y, et al. Exercise therapy for patients with type 2 diabetes; a narrative review. J Clin Med Res. 2018 May;10(5):365-369. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5862082/
Daphne Baldwin Kornrich, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN has been a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for the past 30 years, working in a wide variety of clinical and outpatient settings. Daphne currently specializes in Bariatrics and Weight Management.