Diabetes and Lifestyle – what you can do

There’s no question that exercise plays a huge role in staying fit and healthy at every stage of life. It also goes hand in hand with eating right when it comes to keeping diabetes under control.

Physical activity helps improve insulin sensitivity, making it easier for your muscle cells to take in sugar from your bloodstream. This has been shown to occur with all types of activity, including aerobic exercise and resistance training (143, 144, 145, 146).

What’s more, the benefits seem to last long after you finish exercising.

A large review of 14 studies in type 2 diabetic adults found that performing at least 3 sessions of aerobic training, resistance training or a combination significantly improved insulin sensitivity for up to 72 hours after the last exercise session (143).

Although all types of exercise are beneficial, studies have shown that aerobic and strength training seem to be especially effective for keeping blood sugar well controlled (147).

However, what’s most important is performing physical activity that you like and can commit to doing long term.

If you don’t enjoy working out at the gym or participating in organized sports, there are many other ways to get your heart rate up and strengthen your muscles, such as:

  • Swimming or water-based exercise

  • Working out at home with DVD’s

  • Joining a walking group or setting up a walking schedule with a friend

  • Roller skating

  • Lifting light weights to music while seated on a chair at home

  • Using a treadmill or stationary bike while watching TV

If you have an injury or health condition that limits your ability to exercise, it’s still important to get some type of activity in most days of the week. A personal trainer can help you by creating a customized workout routine based on your abilities and restrictions.

When is the best time to exercise?

Similar to choosing the best type of exercise for you, the major factor in deciding when to exercise should be based on personal preference.

If you’re a morning person or like being active early in the day in order to check it off as “done,” then morning workouts are obviously best for you. On the other hand, you may prefer to work out at the end of the day because it’s more convenient or helps you relax and sleep better.

However, regardless of the time of day, studies have shown that walking or performing physical activity after a meal is much more effective for lowering blood sugar than walking prior to eating (148, 149).

Tracking Your Physical Activity

To optimize blood sugar control, you should aim to work out at least 30 minutes 5 days a week. If you’re currently already at this level of exercise and mainly walking, consider gradually working up to 45-60 minutes or increasing your walking pace so you cover more distance.

If you’re not walking or doing any physical activity at all right now, it’s best to start out with 10 minutes of exercise a day and increase by 5-10 minutes per week until you hit the 30-minute target.

Fortunately, there are dozens of apps that work with phones, watches and other devices to help track your physical activity. Research suggests that these are more effective than pedometers because they provide additional information

about workout intensity, calorie burning and other information that may motivate you to stick to your exercise routine (150).

High-quality sleep is crucial

Getting enough sleep is extremely important for keeping blood sugars within a healthy range. Studies have shown that getting too few hours of high-quality sleep can increase insulin resistance and blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and healthy people (151, 152, 153, 154).

What’s more, it can affect your mood and ability to make healthy eating choices.

In one study of type 2 diabetic adults, poor sleep quality was linked to high blood sugar levels, negative outlook and unhealthy eating behaviors (152).

Although 8 hours is typically recommended, getting slightly less than this per night seems to be fine for many people, although this is another area that varies among individuals.

In an observational study of more than 4,800 people with diabetes, those who averaged 6.5 to 7.5 hours of sleep per night had better long-term blood sugar control than those who slept for less or more hours (155).

If you find it difficult to get enough restorative sleep on a regular basis, read about these 17 Proven Tips to Sleep Better.

Practice stress relief strategies

Stress is a major risk factor for many health problems, including heart disease, cancer and other serious diseases.

Both physical and emotional stress have been shown to drive inflammation that may increase insulin resistance and worsen blood sugar control in those with diabetes and prediabetes (156).

In fact, even if you’re eating a healthy low-carb diet, you may find it difficult to keep blood sugar within target range when constantly under stress. Therefore,

managing stress is extremely important for lowering blood sugar and staying healthy and energetic.

Evidence-based stress-relief techniques for lowering blood sugar include yoga, tai chi and meditation (156).

However, regularly engaging in any activities that help you de-stress is key. These could include taking a computer-free Saturday, reading a book for pleasure or watching animals at a nearby park.

Now that you’ve learned several lifestyle strategies for keeping your blood sugar levels under control, let’s move on to the next chapter on weight loss — something that can be especially challenging for people with diabetes and prediabetes.