National Diabetes Week
Next week (12th – 18th of July) is National Diabetes Week, so we want to take this opportunity to highlight some of the excellent scientific research that has been done over the past decade or two looking into the benefits of exercise for individuals with type two diabetes mellitus.
Type two diabetes is characterised by too much glucose (sugar) in the blood4. Glucose is used as the body’s main form of energy, but when there is too much glucose in the blood for an extended period, it can damage body systems such as the eyes, nerves and kidneys4. The pancreas is also involved, as it produces insulin which helps the glucose to get out of the bloodstream and into the working muscles4. When someone has type two diabetes, their body does not produce enough insulin4. Exercise helps by using up the excess glucose in the bloodstream to power your movement, and it also sensitises the pancreas to create more insulin when there is too much glucose in your bloodstream4. As a result, your blood sugar levels stay in a safe range, and you avoid or reduce your risk of damage to your body4.
(If you need to brush up on your scientific paper knowledge, see the footer at the end of this article*).
A systematic review was completed on diabetes and exercise in 2006 by Thomas, et al.1. The RCTs included in this review ranged from eight weeks to 12 months in duration. There was a total of 14 studies included. They concluded that:
- On average, participants who exercised reduced their HbA1c (three-monthly blood glucose) by 0.6%, which corresponded to an improvement of 20-30% in blood glucose control.
- This means that someone with diabetes who participates in an exercise program might require less or even no diabetic medication at all to control their diabetes.
- These benefits were also seen across different types of exercise, and different intensities. Examples include, Qi Gong, light to moderate walking, jogging, and progressive resistance exercise.
- There were no adverse effects reported in any of the studies.
- This means it is safe and effective for diabetics to exercise!
- Body composition also got better, with improvements in muscle mass and reductions in visceral fat, despite typically seeing no change in weight.
- This implies that even if the scales don’t budge, you can improve your body composition on the inside!
- The studies’ author also suggests you might need to park your expectations that your weight will change if you start exercising, as sustainable weight change is not often seen before the one year mark.
More recent studies have drawn similar conclusions, with a review by Lumb et al. (2014)2 noting that cardiovascular disease risk is also reduced in people with diabetes who regularly exercise.
A systematic review from 2019 by Kumar et al.3 demonstrated that there is good evidence for improved insulin sensitivity when people with diabetes exercise. This means that when your body is able to do a better job when collecting glucose from the blood and taking it to where it is needed, keeping your blood glucose levels under better control.
All in all, exercise is a powerful tool for a diabetic, leading to a healthier body, less medication, less diabetic complications, and fewer problems with other chronic diseases, such as heart disease.
There is no better time than the present to start exercising for your health, and no better expert on the topic than an exercise physiologist!
- Thomas, D., Elliott, E. J. & Naughton, G. A. (2006). Exercise for type 2 diabetes mellitus (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD002968. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002968.pub2.
- Lumb, A. (2014). Diabetes and exercise. Clinical Medicine, Vol 14, No 6: 673-6.
- Kumar, A. S., Maiya, A. G., Shastry, B. A., Vaishali, K., Ravishankar, N., Hazari, A., Gundmi, S. & Jadhav, R. (2019). Exercise and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes mellitus: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, 62, 98-103.
- The Better Health Channel (2020). Diabetes Type 2, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/diabetes-type-2
* The best kinds of studies are called randomised control trials (RCTs). This means a number of participants were gathered and randomised into (usually) two groups, where one is the experimental group, and the other is the control. The experimental group, for our purposes, were the ones who exercised. The controls are not asked to do anything different. Both groups are tested before and after the intervention (i.e. exercise), so that we might know what effect exercise has on a group of people, where all the other variables are kept the same. A systematic review that takes all the best RCTs and analyses them in order to make a summary of the information we have on a topic to date. For this reason, they are considered the gold standard of scientific information.