Updated: Feb 1
We know that effective diabetes care requires a pretty hefty toolbox. From insulin vials to CGM’s, it takes many different devices and medications to control your blood glucose levels.
Has anyone ever told you that movement has the power to completely change the way you take care of your condition, leaving you with better blood sugars and improved quality of life. Are you curious how?
Below are 5 ways that movement and exercise can help your diabetes treatment, along with tips to implement today
1. Lower total daily dose and increase insulin sensitivity Exercise and movement both require lots of different bodily processes. Two of the most important are: lots of brainpower and well as the mechanical act of muscles pumping. Whether you’re running a marathon or ballroom dancing, your muscles have amazing connections via your nervous system up to your brain. This connection (along with all your other bodily systems) is always working together seamlessly to allow you to move fluidly and efficiently. This entire system I just described would be impossible if it weren’t for glucose (or sugar). Glucose is a primary fuel source for our bodies and living with type 1 diabetes, you know that when you don’t have enough glucose in your blood (hypoglycemia) you definitely DO NOT feel your best. In other words: Glucose helps fuel movement and when we spend more time moving, we use up more of that glucose in our bodies as fuel for our muscles and brain. That means we need less injected insulin throughout the day!
Movement also helps us to become more insulin sensitive. Essentially, when our muscles are pumping on a consistent basis, they become better at up-taking that glucose from our blood. This means that over time, our body adapts and we need less insulin, in order to have the same effect. So, for someone who spends lots of time sitting, and is not very insulin sensitive, it might take 5 units of insulin to cover a meal with 30 carbs. For someone who moves a lot, who is very insulin sensitive, it might take only 2 units to cover that same 30 carb meal. Unfortunately, we will need to continue taking some amount of insulin regardless of how much movement we do. But rather than just taking more and more insulin to bring your blood sugars down, why not just increase our daily movement instead? 2. Help Insulin get where it needs to go The insulin you inject has a long journey from the vial, to where it needs to go in your body. Once injected, Insulin makes its way from your subcutaneous fat into your bloodstream, where it’s then able to move all throughout the body where it’s needed. This means that if your blood isn’t pumping effectively, your Insulin cannot get where it needs to, and cannot do its job of controlling your BG’s effectively. Think of your muscles like pumps, that help to move your blood all around your body. When we live a sedentary lifestyle, aka not moving very much, we make it harder for insulin to move throughout your body and get to the cells where it’s needed. This is a recipe for blood sugar spikes and a tough time keeping your BG’s in range. The solution? Move your body more. The more movement you fill your day with, the more those “pumps” are active and moving that blood around your body! If you work in an office, this could mean taking small movement breaks throughout the day, such as going on walks outside or stretching in the break room. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, it could be spending more time on the floor playing with your kiddos. Whatever the case, movement is medicine and is one of the most powerful “supplements” we have to ensure insulin is doing its job. 3. Avoid post-meal Spikes Blood sugar spikes after a meal are never fun. We’ve all been there….. After calculating the “correct” carbs and bolusing before eating, your BG already begins to rise FAST. What’s a great way to avoid this? MOVE! You’d be surprised how just some simple movement for 15-20 minutes after a meal can level out those BG’s and leave you with smooth lines on your CGM. Getting those muscles firing and blood pumping can speed up the action of your insulin and help it absorb better in your body. Keep in mind, after a meal your body needs to stay calm in order to digest the food properly and absorb all those nutrients. So, make sure the movement you’re doing isn’t too strenuous. Take a quick walk around the neighborhood, or even do some light chores around the house. Try to avoid anything too high-intensity or stress-inducing!
4. Bring down a stubborn high blood sugar How many times have you eaten something you know you shouldn’t, and later on, your BG’s suffered because of it? Yep, me too. Next time that happens, rather than just pumping yourself full of more insulin, try moving instead! For the reasons mentioned above, movement can truly act as medication for us living with diabetes, in the long term, and in the short term. While making movement a part of your day can help by decreasing your daily insulin dose and improving insulin sensitivity over time, movement can also be a massive help in the short-term dealing with high BG’s. Whenever I am dealing with high blood sugar that doesn’t seem to want to come down, I first do my best to figure out why I spiked in the first place, in order to not make the same mistake in the future. But my immediate next step, get moving! Something as simple as going for a walk, a quick jog, riding a bike or even some yard work can be enough to bring that blood sugar down and get you back in range quickly and back to feeling your best! 5. Calming and relaxing the body Diabetes is a disease that can cause a LOT of stress. Whether that’s the mental stress of dealing with diabetes or the physical stress of low and high blood sugars. Everything from our central nervous system to our fingers and toes are put under extra stress while living with type 1. This is exactly why with T1D, we must take extra care to give our bodies time to rest and recover properly. This however doesn’t mean we must spend countless hours lounging in front of the TV… Gentle movement practices like yoga, breathing exercises, Tai Chi, Qi Gong or even just rolling around on the floor can greatly down-regulate your nervous system and allow your body to repair and rebuild as it needs. Gentle movement like this can even improve digestion, mental clarity, focus and so much more!
These only scratch the surface of how movement can be medicine for us living with diabetes, as there are many more reasons why moving your body really can do amazing things for your health. Hopefully, after following some of these tips and guidelines, you too can add movement to your diabetes toolbox and get on the path to your best blood sugar control and your best life! Nick is a 22-year-old exercise physiologist, personal trainer, and holistic health coach with a passion for helping others living with type 1. He has been living with diabetes since age 4, giving him 18 years of experience with T1D. This time spent with diabetes is what drove him to his passion in the health world, and cultivated his drive for healing himself, and others. Nick has gained experience in physical therapy/chiropractic, movement coaching, sports performance, alternative medicine practices and diabetes education. His personal mission is to help bridge the world of clinical health and holistic health, in order to provide comprehensive care for his clients, and those around him.