Diabetes and Exercise

What is Diabetes? 

Diabetes is a serious, chronic health condition, diagnosed when there is too much glucose in the blood. This means that the body isn’t effectively producing or using insulin, a hormone responsible for glucose metabolism and energy storage in the body. If left untreated, the presence of high amounts of blood glucose can cause damage to the blood vessels and nerves, resulting in other long-term health conditions such as heart, kidney, eye and foot damage. That said, it is very possible to live an enjoyable life with diabetes by learning about it and learning how to effectively manage it. 

Types of diabetes  

Type 1 

Representing around 10% of cases, type 1 diabetes is not linked to modifiable lifestyle factors, rather an autoimmune condition that occurs where the body’s own immune system attacks the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic childhood conditions with symptoms including excessive urination/ thirst, unexplained weight loss, weakness, fatigue and blurred vision. Management of type 1 diabetes includes insulin injections several times per day or use of an insulin pump. 

Gestational diabetes 

Occurring during pregnancy, Gestational diabetes is diagnosed when higher than normal blood glucose levels are first recorded during pregnancy, where it’s important to manage the condition to prevent the risk of further complications throughout the pregnancy. It is then normal for the health of the mother to return back to normal after the birth, and so too for the baby to be born perfectly healthy.  

Pre diabetes 

Pre-diabetes is a condition in which an individual’s blood glucose is higher than normal, although not yet high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, however are at a high risk of developing this and other cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease. If not treated through lifestyle change such as healthy eating, increased activity and weight loss, the condition could progress into type 2 diabetes, occurring in up to 10% of cases. 

Type 2 

Type 2, represents cases where the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and the pancreas loses its capacity to maintain insulin production. Although this is a condition that is developed largely through modifiable risk factors, there is also a strong genetic component, however the genetic cause remains unknown. Type 2 diabetes develops over a long period of time in which insulin resistance starts, as a result the pancreas reacts by increasing insulin production in an attempt to achieve the same degree of blood glucose management. This prolonged overproduction causes the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas to deteriorate to a point where 50-70% of cells have died at the time of diagnosis. There is currently no cure for type 2 diabetes, however the condition can be managed through lifestyle modification and medication. Effective management of diabetes is the best way to prevent secondary conditions related to diabetes. 

Facts and statistics 

  • 1.9 million Australians live with type 2 diabetes making it one of our most common chronic health conditions and accounting for 85-90% of diabetes cases, the prevalence of which, is increasing at an alarming rate with over 300 Australians diagnosed every day (one person every 5 minutes!). 
  • Total annual cost of Diabetes in Australia is estimated to be $17.6 billion 
  • Diabetes is the 7th most common cause of death 
  • Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia with type 2 diabetes becoming more and more common in younger age groups. 
  • Risk factors include age, family history, ethnicity and lifestyle factors including unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity. 
  • Almost 60% of all cases of type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented with changes to diet and lifestyle. 

Risk factors for developing T2D:  

  • Carrying excess weight, particularly around the stomach (a small drop in weight 
  • Being physically inactive 
  • Unhealthy eating habits 
  • Smoking 
  • High blood pressure 
  • High levels of cholesterol or other fats in the blood 

These are all things that we can control and change! 

Role of Exercise in the management/ prevention of diabetes: 

There is no quick and easy solution to eliminating the above factors, however small changes to diet and regular physical activity can make a significant difference. 

Regular physical activity can help to maintain a healthy weight, lower blood pressure, reduce risk of developing heart disease and reduce stress, as well as improve the effectiveness of insulin, lowering blood glucose levels. Advice from an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (and dietician) can help make losing weight much easier and sustainable, however here are some tips: 

Moving for at least 30 minutes a day can significantly reduce the risk of developing, and can help manage diabetes. This time can be broken up across the day into smaller, more manageable intervals if needed to help fit into a busy schedule! This activity also doesn’t need to be super exhausting or strenuous, a moderate intensity that can be achieved through activities such as a brisk walk, playing a backyard sport or online exercise class can lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and preventing pre-diabetes.

What can I do today?

If you have diabetes or are worried about your health it is recommended that you seek advice from an accredited exercise professional and check with your doctor or health care team prior to commencing exercise for clearance. An exercise Physiologist will conduct an initial assessment to determine what type of exercise might be suitable, symptoms that may impact on exercise and test your current abilities in order to develop an individual program specific to your needs and goals. To find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist in your area check out: http://www.essa.org.au/find-aep/ 

To assess your own risk of developing diabetes: https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/risk-calculator/ 

For more information visit diabetes Australia’s website: https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/ 

By Tasma Wells-Sidler