Manage Diabetes Better with Exercise

Healthnotes Newswire (August 9, 2007)—One of the most effective ways to manage type 2 diabetes might be physical exercise, according to a meta-analysis published in the journal Diabetologia.

Wherever you turn, the message is the same: lose weight, eat right, quit smoking, and exercise to help manage diabetes. But how much of an effect does exercise really have? And how likely are people to succeed when they are already being advised to do so many disease-management tasks, such as monitoring their blood sugar?

In the first analysis of its kind, researchers reviewed previous reports of the effects of exercise and other self-management behaviors on measures of blood sugar control. The meta-analysis looked at 103 studies involving 10,455 people.

Interventions that focused on changing more than one health behavior (for example, simultaneously changing the diet and starting an exercise program) were less successful than those concentrating solely on exercise. The blood sugar–lowering effect was two times greater in the exercise-only studies compared with those targeting multiple behaviors. “This might be accounted for by the difficulty in changing multiple behaviors simultaneously,” the authors commented.

Having personalized exercise training didn’t seem to have a benefit over group sessions, and studies recommending more time spent exercising were not associated with better blood sugar control than those recommending less time. “Our findings suggest little reason to add costly supervised exercise to self-management interventions to improve metabolic control,” they said, adding, “It is possible that people are more likely to initiate and maintain physical activity recommendations that seem less difficult because they require less time exercising.”

With diabetes affecting 3% of the UK population and 7% of the US population, people urgently need effective self-management techniques that they can stick with. Diabetes is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nervous system disease, blindness, and amputations. Preventing diabetic complications is best accomplished through proper glucose control, weight management, blood pressure control, lipid management, and routine medical care and screening.

Exercise aids in weight loss and blood pressure control, and it can help lower total cholesterol levels while raising beneficial HDL cholesterol levels. Physical activity also helps improve blood sugar control by making the body’s cells more sensitive to insulin.

Getting more exercise can begin by choosing to walk to the corner market instead of driving, and opting for the stairs instead of the elevator. Walking at a moderately fast pace for 30 minutes three times per week can help people with diabetes reach their body-weight and blood-pressure goals as well as gain tighter control of their blood sugar.

(Diabetologia 2007;50:913–21)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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