The feel good factor: managing type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise
Managing Your Diabetes Watching what you eat and taking regular physical activity is key to managing type 2 diabetes says Bini Suresh, Registered Dietitian for Curves UK & Ireland, the global chain of fitness clubs for women.
Why is it important for people with type 2 diabetes to exercise and maintain a balanced diet?
Eating a balanced diet is a vital part of taking care of yourself and managing diabetes — as is regular physical activity, which is especially important for people with diabetes. Physical activity can prevent complications for people with diabetes by helping blood glucose levels stay within the target ranges. Studies suggest that exercising muscles use 7–20 times more glucose than non-exercising muscles. Also, when you exercise, your brain chemistry changes through the release of endorphins — also known as ‘feel good’ hormones — which can calm anxiety and lift your mood.
How does strength training help with diabetes?
Strength training (ST) is a form of physical activity that focuses on the use of resistance to build strength, anaerobic endurance and quality of the muscle. Cardio activities can burn more calories in 30 minutes than ST, but ST burns more overall. For example, a woman who completes an hour-long strength training workout burns an average of 100 extra calories in the 24 hours post workout, compared to someone who didn’t partake in ST. Studies have also found that ST is more effective in tackling intra-abdominal fat — aka, the pot belly — which is often associated with diabetes.
Which workouts would you recommend?
There are a number, but I would go for one that combines strength training with cardio activity and stretching, helping create lean muscle, raising metabolism, burning more fat and toning your body. You don’t need to run a marathon or bench-press 100kg. The goal is to get active and stay active by doing things you enjoy.
Where do people start if they are new to exercising?
Maybe start with something gentle, like walking. Walking is great for everyone. It can boost energy levels, fight fat and most definitely help manage blood glucose levels. From there, gradually work your way up to 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise, five times a week. When you are confident and happy with this, you should definitely look into more classes that involve strength training. If you are thinking about drawing up an exercise plan, consider what activity you will you be doing and how long you are going to do it for; how often/when will it be done; and set yourself attainable goals.
How important is it to exercise under supervision?
Some studies suggest that supervised exercise helps achieve better glycaemic control. Having a coach to help you train and motivate you could push you to your personal best and make a session more enjoyable.
Can workouts and diet reverse the effects of type 2 diabetes?
This is something that is now often discussed. The common thread with people who have ‘reversed’ their diabetes is that they have done so by losing large amounts of body weight, often the equivalent of 10%-15% of their total body weight. Studies confirm that with large amounts of planned weight loss, a person can potentially reduce the demands on their body so much that they now acquire sufficient working insulin to control their glucose levels.
How would someone go about drawing up a nutritional plan?
Creating a nutritional plan can be quite hard and there are many out there in the market that haven’t been approved or created by a healthcare professional. First and foremost, sit down with someone who can explain the basic principles of healthy eating for diabetes, and together you can create a clear, concise meal plan that doesn’t need to be hard to follow and, most importantly, is enjoyable.
Does it mean cutting certain foods out of your diet completely?
In a word... no. All kinds of food are OK for people with type 2 diabetes. A healthy balanced diet means eating regular meals, plenty of fruit and vegetables, and eating less saturated fat, sugar and salt. All this can help to reduce the risk of diabetes complications, including heart disease and stroke. A diet rich in vegetables, lean proteins and wholegrains can help you feel satiated without raising your blood glucose levels.
Is it important to fuel your workouts properly with the right food?
Yes. There are too many people who make the error of cutting back on fundamental muscle maintaining protein when they want to reduce calorie intakes. It's important to often consume lean proteins alongside vegetables and small amounts of wholegrain foods. Having a diet rich in these can optimise muscle development.
Studies show that regular physical activity, such as the three-day-a-week Curves programme, substantially reduces the risk of conditions including coronary heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and high blood pressure. It also helps to control weight; contributes to healthy bones, muscles and joints; helps to relieve the pain of arthritis; and reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression.