4/30/2018 1 Comment
It’s estimated that a whopping 30 million people in the United States live with diabetes, with another 84 million adults being pre-diabetic, tripling the rate of diagnosis over the past 20 years (CDC). Instead of addressing the root issues which have led us to chronic health problems, we unfortunately often medicate the symptoms that crop up. This has allowed people to continue living their current lifestyle for a bit longer until even more secondary symptoms crop up which would again require more medication to keep at bay. Before you know it, you’ve transformed into a very sick, yet very medicated individual.
I’m a physical therapist by trade, and when I’m in the clinic, I most frequently work with individuals who have multiple chronic illnesses and diseases that have been greatly influenced by their lifestyle. Some of these patients are aware their choices have led them to where they are today, and others are completely oblivious and don’t understand why medication is no longer helping them and are frustrated their bodies are giving up. In a high percentage of those patients, most just stopped moving as they aged and they retired to their recliner. When I ask during their initial visit with me if they follow any certain exercise program, a common answer I get is a very serious, “sure! I walk out to get my mail in the morning, and I make several trips to the kitchen and bathroom in a day.” Unless your mail box is a half mile down the road, you aren’t getting enough exercise. What people aren’t considering is that our bodies are designed to move, designed to work hard and the way we process foods is designed to fuel active bodies. When we aren’t active enough but still eating like we are or eating junk, it throws everything out of whack.
One of the more common diagnoses I see in patients is type 2 diabetes. I’m always amazed that most of these individuals continue to follow the typical American diet, high in processed foods and sugar, and continue to spend the majority of their day very sedentary. They then medicate in order to adjust blood sugar levels as needed based on how what they ate impacted blood glucose levels. Wanting that extra ice cream cone? Just up your medication later!
If you aren’t familiar with how food is broken down, here is a quick human physiology lesson for you. Glucose comes from foods typically higher in carbohydrates like fruits, breads, potatoes, grains, etc. When you eat these foods, it’s broken down in your stomach by acids and glucose is released. Once in the small intestine, glucose is then absorbed into the blood stream, and once in the blood stream, insulin helps glucose get into our cells. After cells use all the glucose they need, the excess glucose is stored in muscles and the liver as glycogen. If you haven’t eaten for a few hours and your blood sugar drops, your pancreas then signals your liver to start breaking down the stored glycogen and turn it back into usable glucose. And, voila! Instant energy.
In type 2 diabetes, the cells don’t respond to insulin like they should so the pancreas keeps churning out more and more insulin in order to move glucose into cells, eventually damaging the pancreas and impairing it’s ability to create insulin. Without insulin (or enough insulin), blood sugar levels remain high, and high blood sugar is not a good thing.
If you’re not sure what the big deal is about having high blood glucose (blood sugar), I’ll give you a quick peek into the havoc it can wreak on a body. Glucose is actually a very important energy source used by our body, with our brains using it as a main energy source to function (so those carbohydrates are important in our diet!). Within a healthy range, blood glucose has no negative effects. But glucose levels that remain too elevated begin a cascade of damage. At a cellular level, excess glucose causes damage to blood vessels, creating scarring that then leads to the vessels becoming inelastic, which can cause narrowing and impair blood flow (think trying to use one of those small coffee straws to drink water when you’re parched). This can lead to a host of issues like cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, eye and nerve problems including neuropathy, which is described as not being able to feel any sensation in the feet or hands, often times accompanied by an intense burning or pins and needles sensation. A foot that doesn’t feel is an invitation for trouble. That pebble you can’t feel in your shoe will rub you raw without knowing. You’ll keep walking after stepping on a tack that went through your shoe and maybe not realize it for a whole day. In turn, those wounds will heal poorly and be a breeding ground for infection. Before you know it, your doctor is giving you an ultimatum of amputation or else.
Where does this leave us? What solution is there in controlling blood sugar? Exercise. When we participate in activity, our muscles require an immediate source of energy, which is where glucose comes in. It’s readily available and easily used as an energy source. In turn, the more we move, the more exercise we get, the more glucose we are burning, keeping overall glucose levels at a healthy range. I have a strongly held belief that our society too often medicates our health problems, which then allows us to continue living the same lifestyle of eating poorly and being sedentary. Exercise, however, is the least prescribed, most beneficial medication our bodies need.
If you are the type who likes reading through scientific literature, here are some links to studies done on the positive relationship between exercise and blood sugar:
If you are new to exercising or it has been a long time since you’ve been active, start simple!
Are these exercises too easy for you but you really want to work towards combating your elevated blood sugar? Press HERE to see our current Challenge Groups, or go to the Contact Us page and we can get you enrolled in an upcoming Challenge Group where we will focus on both nutrition and fitness.