Exercise, Nutrition and Diabetes

An alarmingly increasing number of Indians are being diagnosed with some type of diabetes, or high blood sugar. As we continue to consume too much food and forego exercise for more sedentary activities, diabetes and other diseases affected by diet are sharply rising. Fortunately, many of those suffering from diabetes can better control the disease with proper nutrition and regular exercise. For example, Type II diabetes is preventable – it can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and regular exercise.

Diabetes results in high blood sugar. Our bodies change the food we eat into sugar; insulin helps that sugar go from our blood to our body’s cells to be used for energy. When you are a diabetic, the amount of sugar in your blood is too high. You either don’t have any insulin, don’t have enough insulin or it doesn’t work correctly. Symptoms of diabetes can include rapid weight loss, fatigue, frequent urination, extreme thirst and blurry vision. Contact your doctor if you think you may have high blood sugar.

There are two types of diabetes. Type I is insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or juvenile diabetes. It occurs most often in young people, though adults can get it, too. People with Type I diabetes either do not have insulin or don’t have enough. They must take insulin by injection. Type II is non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Most diabetics have this type. In Type II the body makes insulin, but it doesn’t work correctly. Type II diabetes usually starts in adulthood and occurs most often in people who are overweight or who have a strong family history of diabetes.

Exercise and a healthy diet are crucial for diabetics. By maintaining a healthy weight, eating right and exercising regularly, Type II diabetics can better control their disease and some Type I diabetics may be able to reduce their amount of insulin intake. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to serious eye, nerve, feet and kidney damage, and can cause problems with the heart and blood vessels. If blood sugar is not controlled, it can lead to blindness, kidney loss or the need for amputations. Staying fit and eating right can delay or prevent these problems.

Diabetics need to choose foods carefully and follow specific meal plans to control blood sugar. Eating a diet with reduced carbohydrates helps. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean meats and don’t eat too many high-calorie, high-carbohydrate, sugar-laden foods. Carbohydrates convert into glucose in the body, causing an increase in blood sugar. By spreading carbohydrate consumption throughout the day, and reducing or even eliminating the simple carbohydrates like refined flour and sugar, diabetics can better maintain stability. Carbohydrates consumed should be complex carbohydrates – whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Another factor that affects diabetics is when to eat. Eating frequent, smaller meals can improve the effectiveness of medication and control blood sugar instability.

Exercise helps diabetics by building muscle and burning fat and calories. Muscle uses glucose (sugar) more efficiently than fat. Strength training should make up an important part of a diabetes treatment plan. Exercising also increases insulin sensitivity – in fact, researchers have noted improvements with as little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight and promotes weight loss, which also helps in maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. If you don’t already exercise, find something you like to do. Join a local gym or try walking, swimming, riding a bicycle around your neighbourhood or even dancing. Find a friend to exercise with, or get your whole family involved. Start gradually with at least 30 minutes of exercise every day (this could be as simple as going for a 30-minute walk in the morning), and over time increase this to an hour of moderate exercise every day.

Exercise affects blood sugar levels, so talk to your doctor before you begin any exercise program about possible changes in your insulin intake. Stretch before and after you exercise and drink plenty of water before, during and after physical activity. Remember to protect your feet – wear shoes that fit properly and thick socks to help prevent blisters.

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