Lifestyle is extremely important both in terms of developing diabetes in the first place, as well as the development of the disease when a diagnosis has been confirmed. Although genetics do play a part, you will not necessarily develop diabetes even if your mother or father has it. Simply stated, you may have genes which make you predisposed to type 2 diabetes, but your lifestyle is the trigger.
How physical activity affects your diabetes
All physical activity has a hypoglycemic effect. Your muscles need more energy when you exercise, consuming and thereby reducing blood sugar. At the same time, physical activity enhances the insulin function in the muscle cells, increasing their ability to absorb glucose from the blood. In fact, you can repair insulin resistance very effectively by engaging in physical activity on a regular basis. New research shows that it is never too late to exercise your way to better insulin sensitivity. Your age is irrelevant, and it does not matter what activity you choose.
The glucose absorption rate in the muscles of an adult is 8-12 grams per hour, and this can be doubled with exercise. The effect on insulin sensitivity lasts up to 48 hours after a workout. In order to achieve a lasting effect of increased insulin sensitivity, you should preferably exercise more every second day in addition to your daily physical activity. If you exercise in the morning, your body’s ability to absorb the carbohydrates you eat throughout the day will improve.
To avoid the blood sugar peaks after meals, many diabetes patients use hypoglycemic/blood sugar lowering medication. Physical activity has the same effect but is entirely without negative side effects. Light activity, such as a leisurely walk, seems to be just as beneficial as a more intense workout when it comes to reducing dangerously high blood sugar after a meal.
This means that everyone, even those who cannot exercise at a more intense level, will be able to reduce their blood sugar substantially, simply through moderate physical activity. Regardless of your physical level, you should choose an activity that you enjoy. This makes it easier to get started and maintain a positive attitude in your daily regime. A 30-minute walk every day will go a long way. If you use insulin or insulin increasing medication, you must test your blood sugar before and after exercise to avoid too low blood sugar.
Physical activity has numerous beneficial health effects:
• Lower blood sugar
• Better insulin sensitivity
• Better physical condition and more energy for all kinds of activities
• Improved metabolism
• Reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases
• Reduced risk of developing several types of cancer
• Reduced risk of osteoporosis and reduction of other musculoskeletal ailments
• Reduces stress
How stress affects your diabetes:
When we experience stress the body produces the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which we call the “fight or flight” hormones. They will enable us to flee or fight when we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. Among other things, adrenaline and cortisol ensure that proteins and fat, to a varying degree, transform into blood sugar. The blood sugar rises to give the extra energy we need to flee or otherwise deal with a stressful situation. The problem is that modern day stress does not necessarily entail any real danger. Still, many people find their daily life to be both busy and stressful. A combination of high work tempo, lack of exercise, wrong diet and a feeling of not mastering our everyday lives, leads to chronic stress which in turn may have severe consequences for our health.
In addition to the stress hormones causing a rise in blood sugar, the following also happens: the fat cells surrounding the stomach are very sensitive to the stress hormone cortisol. Therefore, stress to a larger degree makes us gain weight around the waist. As mentioned earlier, this fat will inhibit the effect of insulin (insulin resistance) and increase the risk of developing cardiovascular problems. Cortisol also increases the appetite, making us eat more. New research shows that when rats are feeling stressed, they eat food with a high content of carbohydrates and fat. Such food items (cakes, cookies, ice cream, sweets) “comfort” by alleviating the discomfort caused by the stress hormones. Consequently, stress does not only make us eat more, it also makes us choose food with a high GI that increases our blood sugar and the need for insulin. A lot of cortisol over time will also impair the immune system and increase the risk of cancer.
It is important to find out what stresses you, and if possible, eliminate unwanted stress or find good coping mechanisms. Physical activity is a good way to reduce stress hormones while bringing new energy in the process. Yoga is also a very good method of de-stressing as it offers good breathing techniques and meditation. But all kinds of exercise are good. Equally important is eating the right kind of food, having a good social network and getting enough good sleep. If you are not able to master stress by yourself, you should consider getting professional help before it affects your health.
How sleep affects your diabetes
Sleep issues may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by as much as 84 per cent.
If you get insufficient sleep (less than 5-6 hours per night), too much sleep (more than 8-9 hours per night), have problems going to sleep or experience interrupted sleep several times per night, this will cause negative changes in your metabolism, hormone function and immune system. The consequences are increased fat deposit, increased appetite, inferior blood sugar regulation and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, as well as chronic inflammatory conditions.
Too high or too low blood sugar will affect your sleep in opposite ways.
The most common causes of insufficient sleep include going to bed too late, stress and anxiety on a daily basis and lack of exercise.
The right diet, regular exercise and meditation are good ways of treating this.
Around 60 per cent of patients with type 2 diabetes have sleep apnea which is a serious sleep disorder where your breathing stops and starts several times during the night. This leads to snoring and frequent awakenings, which seriously impacts sleep quality. A study from 2012 discovered that 1 out of 3 children with diabetes type 1 also suffer from apnea (breathing stops). This sleep disorder must be studied at a hospital and the appropriate treatment instigated.
By Hege Hasler, book author, Diabetes specialist of Oslo, Norway.