Managing Diabetes With Exercise

When it comes to just about anyone, there is no excuse not to exercise. But this advice may be even more pertinent to those diagnosed with diabetes -- evidenced by the fact that the American Diabetes Association highly recommends activity for these individuals.

Unfortunately, many people just come up with excuses not to be active.

Fighting a Downward Trend

When we are young we believe we are indestructible. You remember that glorious time when you thought there was nothing out there that could kill you. Staying up all night dancing and partying, eating pizza, smoking and drinking alcohol and Red Bull -- does this sound familiar?

Inevitably, one day we wake up and find ourselves older, in a relationship and possibly with children.

Sure, we may still continue to eat pizza, drink sugary sodas and keep our energy levels up with stimulants. But four things have changed:

Our bodies' metabolisms have slowed down;

We are less active;

We have lost lean muscle tissue; and

We have started to gain weight.

Those initial signs are the beginning of a downward spiral that we need to be aware of that naturally accompanies aging. And we need to meet these challenges by replacing our unhealthy behaviors with strategies that work toward a healthier lifestyle.

How Exercise Can Help

Now for a growing number of us, a routine checkup could culminate in receiving the news from our doctors: "You have type 2 diabetes!"

Type 2 diabetes is a form that affects 90 to 95 percent of all those who have the disease. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does produce the blood sugar that regulates the hormone insulin, but only in small quantities.

Many who have type 2 diabetes remain unaware of their condition. But an important point is that type 2 diabetes occurs in adults who are overweight, and is characterized by a reduced sensitivity of insulin-target cells to available insulin.

So if you're diagnosed, what are you to do? One of the first recommendations is to change your lifestyle through exercise and nutrition.

Activities that are recommended include walking, running, biking, dancing, hiking, resistance training and many more. These daily exercises bring us many benefits besides weight loss. They help us to stay healthy, control our appetite, increase our energy, boost our mental clarity, prevent cardiovascular disease, help our digestion -- and the list goes on.

For those with diabetes, exercise helps stabilize insulin levels, which is important in any kind of weight-loss program. Regular exercise also helps diabetics stay focused on maintaining a healthy diet so that they lose the desire to eat foods that cause spikes in their blood sugar.

The good news is that once diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you can reverse the diagnosis. But the protocol needs to be specifically adjusted by paying attention to the following:

Intensity: Use 50 percent to 60 percent of cardiac reserve, gradually progressing to 60 and 70 percent.

Frequency: Exercise four to seven days a week, though you might need to start out with several short daily sessions.

Duration: Individuals with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) should work up to 20 to 30 minutes a session; 40 to 60 minutes are recommended.

Actually, this is the general protocol for anybody who has been inactive for a while.

Catching Diabetes Before It Starts

Of course, we don't have to let it get to this point. Think back on all the activities that you liked to do in high school or college. Find something that makes you move. Wrestle, start dancing classes, or hunt around for activity classes that you enjoy.

We also live at a time when technology can truly help our fitness aspirations. Start using it. Use your iPod to receive downloadable programs. Or use it in such a way to keep you going. For example, use your wireless phone with a headset and start moving while you talk instead of lying in bed or on the couch. Why not? Do a home workout to start sweating in a way that does not require going to the gym.

You don't need to join a gym to stay in shape and stay healthy. What you do need is a willingness to change, to try, to not quit, to stay motivated, especially if you are obese or otherwise at risk for diabetes. Changes in your diet and exercise routine start with you.

Start moving now.

Stefan Aschan is the owner and founder of, which provides nutrition and exercise programs online and on-site in New York City.