What is the relationship between exercise and blood glucose and why does it matter?
First, we need to understand what happens to the food we eat.
After ingesting food, the body works hard to break it down to the main nutrients. Once digested, the nutrients are released into the blood stream to be transported around the body. In the case of glucose, which is released following the digestion of carbohydrates, this travels around the blood stream until it is accepted into cells for use. Glucose is an important fuel source and helps provide energy to muscles, organs and the brain.
Once the body recognises that there is glucose in the blood stream, the pancreas releases insulin which helps inform the body’s cells that there is plenty of glucose available for use. Insulin goes to the edge of the cells and takes the glucose into the cell for use. If you don’t have enough insulin available or you have too much glucose travelling around the bloodstream then the glucose cannot get into your muscles to provide needed energy. The result is the glucose stays in the bloodstream, causing higher blood glucose readings.
The other important thing to know is that Glycogen is the storage form of glucose. When there is extra glucose, glycogen is formed, and the glucose is stored for later use. The liver and muscles are the main locations where glycogen can be stored.
As we exercise or engage in any physical activity, our muscles use glucose as energy to keep the muscle working. Once the glucose runs out, our muscles take the glycogen out of storage and use that for energy. The muscle is then able to take more glucose from the blood (if available) and replenish the stores for next time.
Regular exercise is vital to train your muscles to efficiently take up glucose from the blood thus reducing the concentration of glucose in the blood stream. Without regular exercise, blood glucose levels remain elevated.
The pancreas continues to produce and release insulin in an attempt to reduce blood sugar and promote glucose to be taken from the blood by the muscles & organs. This may contribute to Type 2 Diabetes by straining the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin. So, through regular exercise, muscle glycogen is depleted enabling the muscle to take in glucose, lowering blood glucose levels. Lowered blood glucose levels take pressure off the pancreas’s production of insulin, which could prevent or manage Type 2 Diabetes.
What Kinds of Exercise to Do?
Generally speaking, there are three main kinds of exercise—aerobic, strength training, and flexibility work. You should aim to have a good balance of all three.
Aerobic exercises include:
- Riding a bike
You should aim to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. If you need to break up the exercise into chunks—10 minutes here and there and build up to 30 minutes gradually.
Make it part of your everyday. Take a walk at lunch or get the whole family out after dinner for a game of basketball. Remember that walking your dog, taking the stairs, walking to the station or bus stop or up to the shops is a form of exercise.
You need to find a way to exercise that you enjoy—because if it’s not fun, you won’t do it. It’ll be harder to stay motivated, even if you know all the benefits of exercise. Consider
taking group classes at the gym or find a friend to walk or run with. Having someone else exercising with you makes it more enjoyable.
Strength training gives you lean, efficient muscles, and it also helps you maintain strong, healthy bones. It’s good for you when you have type 2 diabetes because muscles use the most glucose, so if you can use them more, then you’ll be better able to control your blood glucose level.
Weight training is one of the most used strength training techniques, although you can also use your own body weight to build up strength.
Lifting weights for 20-30 minutes two or three times a week is enough to get the full benefits of strength training. Make sure you know how to use all the equipment and even consider getting a personal trainer to learn what exercises are best for you.
With flexibility training, you’ll improve how well your muscles and joints work. Stretching before and after exercise reduces muscle soreness and relaxes your muscle.
Nicole Haak is an experienced Melbourne Naturopath whose gentle approach and warm nature enable her to be an empathetic and supportive practitioner who takes a genuine interest in her clients’ needs. She has a deep passion for what she does. This is evident by her holistic approach to helping her patients find solutions to their health concerns and improve their quality of life.