Fighting Diabetes with Exercise

by Jenny Legan, Home Bodies Trainer to
greater Portsmouth NH

Within the last 15 years, the U.S. has seen an astronomical rise in new cases of adult-onset, or type 2 diabetes, a potentially deadly condition. While this was once considered an adult disease in that diabetes affected most in the mid-late years of life, is now being seen even in young children.

It is important to understand that type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas is inhibited from producing insulin due to an immune response, is traditionally the form of diabetes affecting children and young adults. In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 1 in 523 people under age 20 had type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still is capable of producing insulin; however, the cells of the body have become resistant to the insulin. In turn, blood glucose levels remain chronically elevated, unless steps are taken to reverse the insulin resistance.

What it the best defense against insulin resistance? Exercise! In fact, exercise is almost always utilized alone or in conjunction with diet modifications and/or medication in the treatment of diabetes. It is essential that the insulin resistance is treated in order to normalize chronic elevations in blood glucose levels, which are seen in diabetes and pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes is a condition in which an individual has an elevation of glucose levels, yet the levels are not yet high enough to warrant a diagnosis of diabetes. If left untreated, high glucose levels in the body can lead to a wide variety of serious health complications, such as eye problems, kidney disease, and amputations. Not only can diabetes be fatal--as according to the American Diabetes Association, it is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.--it can set an individual up to have a great increase in their risk of heart disease. Heart Disease is the leading cause of death within the U.S. Those with diabetes run twice the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke than those without diabetes.

The symptoms of diabetes include weight gain and weight loss, increase thirst, urination and hunger, headaches, fatigue, and slow wound healing. Because these symptoms can indicate other medical conditions, it is important to see your doctor, especially if you are overweight and don't exercise. The symptoms of chronic blood glucose elevations due to insulin resistance are numerous and can vary greatly among individuals. Only a medical professional can determine if you have or are at risk of diabetes. In order to avoid the serious and potentially deadly consequences of diabetes, it is important to see your health care provider if you have any symptoms, family history, or risk factors of the disease, such as a sedentary lifestyle.

In our fast-paced society, it is so easy to fall victim to unhealthy habits that contribute to the development of diabetes. We spend a great deal of our time being sedentary and when meal time rolls around, we are far too willing to trade nutritious meals for fast food and “freezer fare.” The good news is that through simple changes to the diet to including less fat and calories, more lean protein, whole grains, and produce (which can easily be accomplished through the avoidance of packaged and processed foods) blood glucose levels can be gradually lowered over time. Keep in mind that the most effective weapon against diabetes is exercise. Exercise helps the body to lower blood glucose levels and enhances the efficacy of insulin produced by the pancreas, gradually reversing insulin resistance.

As diabetes reaches epidemic proportions within our society, regular exercise and improvements in eating habits must be undertaken in order to halt new cases of the disease within the adult population. We must not forget that our children are also at risk of diabetes. We can set healthy examples for our children, by taking care of our own bodies. Remember, our children won't practice what we preach, but only what we ourselves practice. So, honor your commitment to exercise. By doing so, you can prepare the way for a long and healthy life for not only yourself, but those you love.

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