There is an interesting physiological fact about muscle that will be of great benefit to all who are trying to treat or prevent diabetes associated with being overweight. In the book The Weight Loss Counter Revolution I explain why being overweight causes diabetes, what this does to your body, and why it’s so damaging. In short, the body uses insulin to get sugar out of the bloodstream into cells where it is needed to provide energy. When the insulin doesn’t work well or when it is insufficient in quantity, blood sugar rises. While at rest, muscle requires insulin to take sugar out of the blood just like all the other cells in the body (except brain cells). What is interesting is that, with moderate or heavy exercise, muscle is able to take sugar out of the blood with only minimal help from insulin.
This is such an important point that I’ll mention it again:
With exercise you can get sugar out of the blood without insulin.This is fabulous news for the diabetics and potential diabetics of the world (i.e. all you overweight folks out there). If you do moderate to intense exercise, it doesn’t matter how bad your insulin works or how insufficient its supply; you can help control your blood sugar.
The effect of exercise on diabetes is to outflank the primary disease process. Too much sugar in the blood is toxic. Exercise lowers the blood sugar. It should therefore be no surprise to you that there is ample evidence that exercise improves the health of diabetics in multiple ways. The medications for diabetes in most cases are lifesaving, but they also come with some serious potential side effects and can get quite expensive. Exercise treats diabetes with few side effects (you might have some sore muscles) and minimal if any cost (running outdoors is free).
The Weight Loss Counter Revolution is all about evidence. So here’s the evidence: The results of 14 large controlled trials of were combined to quantify the benefits of exercise on diabetes. There was a clear decrease in the average blood sugar of subjects who exercised. The decrease was large enough to significantly lower the risk of the complications of diabetes. Exercise even improved how well insulin worked (i.e. improved insulin sensitivity). The benefits were not entirely related to weight changes either. The improvement was even in those that didn’t lose a significant amount of weight. This shows that exercise benefits your health even if you don’t lose weight. This means that you should keep exercising, even if you feel it is not effective at leading to weight loss.
The above study was for exercise in general. The same scientists performed a different analysis of studies with more structured exercise programs in order to evaluate the benefits of different intensities of exercise on the average blood sugar. Not surprisingly, they showed a significant improvement. What was interesting was that, the more intense the exercise regimen, the greater the effect was on the disease. In other words, the more you exercise, the greater the benefits.
The bottom line is that exercise is a no cost cure for diabetes. Sounds good to me.
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Boule N, Kenny G, Haddad E, Wells G, Sigal R. Meta-analysis of the effect of structured exercise training on cardiorespiratory fitness in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Diabetologia 2003;46:1071-81.
Eriksson J, Taimela S, Eriksson K, Parviainen S, Peltonen J, Kujala U. Resistance training in treatment of non-insulindependent diabetes mellitus. Int J Sports Med 1997;18:242-6.