Type 1 diabetes? Exercise is still medicine
You have probably heard of diabetes (most likely type 2) and know that it is often caused by a combination of genetic factors along with poor diet and insufficient activity levels. Therefore, most people are aware that exercise is beneficial for a type 2 diabetic.
What many people don’t realise however, is that exercise can be just as beneficial for someone with type 1 diabetes, despite the differences between the conditions.
So, let’s start by talking about what type 1 diabetes actually is, and how it is different from type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes – What Is It?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which an individual produces very little or no insulin. This means that they are unable to effectively control their blood sugar levels. Unlike Type 2 diabetes, it is not a lifestyle related chronic disease, caused by excess weight and/or a poor diet. Instead, it is an autoimmune condition typically appearing in adolescence, the exact causes of which are unknown. Researchers speculate however that it could be triggered by a virus or infection.
Why Is Insulin Important?
When a non-diabetic person consumes food, the hormone insulin is released by the pancreas in order to help reduce blood sugar levels and transport the glucose (the broken down version of carbohydrates) to the body’s muscles for storage.
For someone with type 1 diabetes however, this process either occurs minimally or not at all, so their blood sugar levels will remain high unless they inject insulin. For years, diabetics have relied on insulin as their main treatment method.
What research has shown though, and what many individuals have experienced for themselves, is that exercise can be another extremely useful tool to help lower and manage blood sugar levels naturally.
How Does Exercise Help?
- Helps to transport glucose out of the blood
- During exercise, the muscles of the body contract, which allows glucose to be taken up in the muscle cells without the need for insulin, thus reducing blood sugar levels
- Sugar from the blood is also used up as energy to fuel the immediate exercise, further reducing blood sugar levels
- During low and moderate intensity exercise, this reduction will occur over both the short and long term, but with high intensity exercise it can create a short term spike due to adrenaline and other hormones, but reduce over the long term (1-2 days)
2. Increases muscle area for glucose storage
- Exercise, in many cases, also increases muscle mass over the long term, and an increase in muscle mass means that there is a greater muscle area in which glucose can be stored.
3. Reduces blood sugar response after a meal
- Walking, specifically, after a meal, has been shown to reduce the blood sugar response, and therefore decrease the amount of insulin required by a diabetic after a meal
Why is decreasing the need for insulin a good thing?
Decreasing the need for and reliance on insulin for a diabetic is a positive thing, because with consistent use of insulin, the body becomes resistant, so the dose needs to be constantly increased to have the same effect. If we reduce how much insulin we need to use on a daily basis, then the body becomes more sensitive to it, and responds more effectively to a smaller dose.
So, knowing all this, what are some practical steps someone who has type 1 diabetes can take, to reap the advantages of exercise?
- Incorporate regular exercise into your life
- Include a range of resistance, low to moderate, and high intensity training with activities that you enjoy
- Always monitor your blood sugar levels, keep carb rich snacks on hand to manage potential blood sugar fluctuations during exercise
- Ensure you consult your doctor about the changes you are making