& Joannie Dobbs Wednesday, May 9 , 2001
If you have a family history of diabetes, you should be exercising. If you are more than 45 years old and overweight, then you are at risk of getting diabetes and should be exercising. And if you have adult-onset diabetes already, you most likely should be exercising.
Adult-onset diabetes is commonly referred to as type 2 diabetes mellitus or non-insulin-dependent diabetes. It represents 80 to 90 percent of all people with diabetes.
When you consider diabetes, you likely think about the importance of proper diet and keeping carbohydrate intake under control. Certainly, proper nutrition is a major factor, but exercise is equally important in treating diabetes, not to mention preventing diabetes in the first place.
The risk of developing diabetes is greater for those over 45 years of age, especially if they are overweight and sedentary. Although the benefits of physical activity in the prevention of diabetes are well-established, the best type of exercise is not. It is essential to consider both type of and amount of exercise.
Endurance exercises such as jogging, cycling, swimming and other aerobic exercises have traditionally been preferred. During aerobic exercise, working muscles remove glucose from the blood more efficiently, which helps to normalize blood-glucose levels. Also, the long-term effects of regular aerobic exercise reduce many of the negative consequences of diabetes, in particular, the risk of cardiovascular disease.
More recently, research has found that various forms of resistance exercise, such as weight-lifting or using exercise machines, also provide benefits to diabetics. Aerobic exercise improves muscle function; resistance exercise increases the quantity of muscle tissue.
The incidence of diabetes increases with age, possibly because muscle mass typically decreases with age. As the theory goes, blood-glucose levels rise if there is less muscle tissue to use the sugar and the end result is the development of diabetes. This suggests that a combination of aerobic and resistance exercises would be most beneficial in preventing and treating diabetes.
The usual recommendation is at least 30 minutes of moderate (not intense) physical activity on most days of the week. This should include two days a week of resistance exercise. Both aerobic and resistance exercise sessions should be preceded by an easy warm-up and followed by a gradual cool-down of three to five minutes.
The earlier exercise is included, the more effective it is likely to be in treating diabetes. And for its benefit to continue, regular exercise must become a permanent lifestyle change.
Since diabetes can be accompanied by a variety of health complications, it is essential to work with appropriately trained health professionals to determine an exercise program. Adjustments in medication and diet may be required.
People with diabetes can make major improvements in their condition with the right type of exercise and diet.
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.
Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Service
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