Did you know that staying active can help to control diabetes? And that through diet and exercise, it might be possible to reverse type 2 diabetes? Not only does staying active foster good overall health, but playing sports, or participating in activities like cycling and hiking can all help to manage diabetes.
If you’re over 50 and find exercise difficult, even just moving around the house more helps you to stay active and make an impact on managing your diabetes. No matter how small your efforts might seem, you should be proud of the changes you make to your lifestyle.
We know that you don’t always know how your condition is going to affect you. Below, we explain how staying active can help you manage your diabetes, and address some common concerns people have about exercise. We also give you some ideas of different activities that you could try and things you can do to exercise safely.
How does staying fit help to control diabetes?
Many people with diabetes are concerned that being active will make it harder to manage their condition. They might also be worried that their blood sugar levels will drop more. But the fact is that exercise doesn’t always make your blood sugar levels go down - it can also make them go up.
Staying active makes your body more sensitive to insulin - and this is good for managing your diabetes.
Additionally, regular exercise can:
- Help your body use insulin more effectively.
- Lower your blood pressure.
- Lower bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.
- Reduce your risk of getting heart disease.
- Help you lose weight and keep the weight off.
- Prevent muscle loss.
- Reduce your stress levels and improve your mental well-being.
Can regular exercise cure type 2 diabetes?
Studies have shown that it’s possible for some people to reverse type 2 diabetes, but there isn’t an outright cure yet. By eating healthily and losing weight, you might be able to return your blood sugar levels to normal, and no longer need to take medication.
However, this doesn’t mean that you’re completely cured; type 2 diabetes is a lifelong disease. Even if you manage to maintain normal blood sugar levels, and you no longer need to take medication, your symptoms may return in the future.
None of this is to say that you can’t reverse your condition - or put it into remission - and enjoy years of healthy levels of blood glucose and be free from the other effects of diabetes.
So, what can you do to reverse type 2 diabetes? You must lose weight; and if you lose enough weight, you might be able to reverse your condition completely.
You should lose weight by concentrating on staying active and eating healthily. Your chances of achieving remission increase if you haven’t had the disease for long, and have never needed to take insulin.
What’s the best exercise to control diabetes?
As we mentioned above, the most important thing for you to focus on is losing weight and eating a healthy diet. The kind of activity you do to achieve this isn’t what’s important, but it helps if you can find an activity which you enjoy, such as hiking or doing sport with friends. Try to find something which you can do regularly and fit into your lifestyle.
With tighter social distancing restrictions being implemented because of COVID-19, you might find our list of short home workouts a useful starting point:
- 10-minute home toning workout for over 50s
- 10-minute upper body workout for over 50s
- 10-minute LBT workout for over 50s
- 10-minute firm butt workout for over 50s
- 10-minute home cardio workout for over 50s
UK NHS guidelines recommend that adults should try to be physically active every day, and more specifically, they should do at least 150-minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. You should also include exercise which strengthens your muscles and improves your flexibility.
Moderate-intensity activity is anything which raises your heart rate, makes you breathe faster and feel warmer. For example, it could be a 30-minute bike ride around your local park. If you have diabetes, you’re more prone to getting heart disease, so you must do regular cardiovascular exercise to prevent this.
For maintaining your levels of strength and mobility, doing things like light gardening, weeding or digging are all great things for achieving this. You might find our guide on basic strength and mobility exercises useful.
If you find moderate-intensity exercise difficult, try to move more instead. This includes trying to sit less, doing more things around the house, such as DIY, and generally moving around.
Enjoy an active lifestyle
As we mentioned above, one of the best ways to stay active is to find an activity you enjoy, and it might even become your hobby. For example, you could:
- Join a Yoga, Pilates or Tai chi class.
- Take up dancing.
- Play tennis or badminton.
- Go on walks with friends and family.
Regulating blood sugars while doing physical activity
As you may already know, everybody has their own ways of managing their blood sugars. If you haven’t done much exercise while you’ve had diabetes, here are some things you can do to manage your blood sugars while being active:
- When you’re active, make a note of what happens to your blood sugars. Show this to your GP or diabetes nurse.
- If you’re worried about your blood sugars crashing during activity, keep some snacks or glucose tablets handy.
- Wear something which shows to others that you have diabetes.
- Check with your diabetes nurse or doctor about your insulin dosage.
Speak with your doctor before doing more exercise
If you’re concerned about your blood sugar levels falling more when you do activity, talk to your GP or diabetes nurse before doing extra activity.
You must also check your blood sugar levels before exercise, especially if you take medication or insulin- check with your GP or health care provider about what should be normal for you.