Diabetes and Exercise: Five Elements Of Complete Fitness Routines

Getting any type of exercise helps with glucose control, but an exercise routine that includes all five essential fitness elements can optimize diabetes management, and longterm well-being.

Five Element Fitness

Though we all have our exercise preferences, a well-rounded routine includes aerobic, core, resistance, flexibility, and balance activities—and each of these fitness elements benefits diabetes care:

  • Aerobic. Aerobic, or cardio activities cause us to breathe faster and more deeply than usual, expanding our lung capacity, and increasing the oxygen in our blood. As the heart beats faster and grows stronger, the oxygenated blood flows to, and nourishes our entire body.
  • Aerobic conditioning makes daily tasks easier to perform, and allows us to meet unexpected physical challenges, such as having to walk several flights of stairs if an elevator is out of order. It also lowers the risk for cardiovascular disease, a common diabetes complication.
  • At least 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week is recommended. Any movement that engages large muscle groups and gets the heart pumping will do, including walking, biking, vacuuming, dancing, raking, swimming, or water aerobics.
  • Core Exercises. Activity that strengthens our abdominal, lower back, and pelvic muscles trains them to support the spine, allowing the upper and lower body to coordinate effectively. Doing planks, bridges, fitness ball exercises, Pilates routines, and certain yoga poses are excellent ways to build core strength.
  • Having a strong core protects our spine, improves stability, and makes all our movements easier, and safer. Those experiencing balance issues related to diabetic neuropathy may especially benefit from core building.
  • Strength Training. Building our major muscle groups through strength or resistance training makes everyday activities such as opening a pickle jar, or cleaning out the garage less taxing. We can invest in a gym membership to access resistance equipment, or free weights. At home we can use hand-held weights, resistance bands, or our own body’s weight (e.g., squats, pushups) to strengthen leg, abdominal, back, chest, and arm muscles.
  • Strength training helps those with diabetes respond better to insulin, and utilize blood sugar more effectively. It also lowers blood pressure, improves blood lipid profiles, strengthens bones, and helps with weight loss.
  • Flexibility/Stretching. Ease of movement requires not just strength, but also flexibility. A good time to stretch is after working out, when the muscles are warm, or we might engage in activities such as yoga to increase overall flexibility.
  • Stretching enhances our joints’ range of motion, lessens the likelihood of falls, and injury. It improves posture, increases blood circulation, helps lower glucose levels, and relieves the stress that managing diabetes can generate.
  • Balance Training. Focusing on balance is particularly important for older adults, and those who have conditions that affect balance, such as neuropathy. Balance exercises stabilize core muscles to maintain mobility, and prevent falls.
  • Tai chi is an excellent activity for improving balance, as are many yoga poses, and Qigong exercises.

Though most of us primarily engage in one or two types of exercise, we can add 10 to 20 minutes of the other fitness elements to our weekly routine by exercising a bit of creativity. We might, for instance, do some balance exercises during our afternoon break at work, enjoy some gentle stretches before turning in at night, or choose to always take the stairs instead of elevators.

“Small steps may appear unimpressive, but don’t be deceived. They are the means by which…lives are drastically changed.” ~ Michelle E. Goodrich

Sources: University of Mexico; Mayo Clinic; Diabetics Weekly
Photo credit: Fabio Mascarenhas

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