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Get Motivated to Improve Your Insulin Action with Physical Activity

Sep 28, 2012



By Sheri Colberg, PhD 


Any type of exercise training can make your insulin work better, regardless of what type of diabetes you have and whether you have to take insulin.


Being physically trained will improve your insulin action. Doing resistance workouts improves it by increasing your muscle mass, which raises your storage of excess blood glucose there as muscle glycogen. While endurance training does not increase your muscle mass as much, it does enhance your blood glucose and fat use during and after exercise, even if it doesn’t cause you to gain as much muscle.

If you currently just walk, you might want to consider doing some weight training 2 to 3 times per week as well to better control your diabetes. In fact, the combination of aerobic and resistance training may afford even greater improvements in your insulin action, with increased muscle mass as a beneficial side-effect.

You can vastly improve your insulin action by improving your exercise and your dietary habits, but other factors can influence how well your insulin works as well. For optimal results, try to improve your body’s insulin action by several of these means (that follow) as their effects are likely to add together to result for greater overall benefit.

Other Factors That Can Improve Insulin 
  • Regular aerobic and resistance exercise
  • Muscle mass gain
  • Loss of body fat — particularly visceral and extra fat in the liver, pancreas, and muscles
  • Improved blood glucose control (and avoidance of highs and lows)
  • Reduced levels of circulating triglycerides and free fatty acids (blood fats)
  • Reduction in systemic inflammation mainly with physical activity and antioxidants
  • Reduction in mental (e.g., anxiety, depression) and/or physical stressors
  • Decrease in circulating levels of cortisol released due to stress (physical and mental)
  • Intake of more dietary fiber, less meat, dairy and trans fat, and fewer highly refined foods
  • Daily consumption of a healthy breakfast
  • Lower caffeine intake (particularly added caffeine, such as in sodas)
  • Adequate sleep (seven to eight hours a night for most adults)
  • Use of insulin sensitizers like Actos
  • Increased testosterone levels in men
  • Effective treatment of sleep apnea
How to Jump Start Your Exercise Program

You may have started out with the best of intentions to become more fit, and you may even have invested in some new walking shoes. So why are they still sitting in the box next to your brand-new pair of polyester-blend athletic socks? Your exercise program likely just needs a jump start! The following tips can help you get motivated to improve your insulin action and health.

1)    Start moving more

Certainly, you don’t have to dramatically change everything about your lifestyle all at once, but effective prevention and control of diabetes is going to involve doing something different if you’re having problems sticking with an exercise program.  For starters, you may have to change your way of thinking about exercise. If you have to, call it something with a less negative connotation, such as "physical activity," "moving more," or "being active."

To get started, become more active throughout the day by sitting less, standing more, taking more frequent active breaks from sedentary activities, walking extra steps, and even fidgeting more. You may not even realize that what you’re doing counts as being active. Start by becoming more aware of what you’re doing throughout the day, and then take it one day at a time.

2)    Forget about dieting

If weight loss is your goal, do yourself a favor by not following any drastic fad diet or unbalanced diet plan. Also, any healthy, nutritional changes that you implement for yourself should never be interpreted as "going on a diet," which implies that the "diet" will end at some point. If you avoid calling your meal plan a "diet," you will have a much more positive attitude toward the changes you make. Dieting also makes you feel cranky and tired, which is likely to keep you from being more active. Since most diets fail at some point if permanent lifestyle changes are not made, you will likely gain the weight back afterward anyway — unless you adopt a healthier eating plan and start being generally more active each day.

Just gaining or retaining your muscle mass through physical activity will increase round-the-clock energy expenditure without your having to give it a thought. Besides, the best way to lose that spare tire around your middle is to do any type of exercise. Dieting by itself (without exercise) results in greater loss of your muscle and less fat loss. So, start moving more in any way possible, give up dieting, develop a healthy relationship to eating in general, and live well in spite of diabetes and at any body weight.

3)    Remind yourself that being active can save your life

Regular physical movement can lessen the potential impact of most of your cardiovascular risk factors, including elevated cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, obesity, and hypertension. High blood pressure is associated with higher levels of insulin, and regular activity can result in lower blood pressure and reduced circulating levels of insulin. If you do nothing but regular walking, it can lengthen your life. In fact, walking more is likely the best and easiest medicine for both the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Good blood sugar control, if you achieve it with the help of regular physical activity, has the potential to prevent or delay almost all of the potential long-term health complications of diabetes, and it’s never too late to get started reaping the health benefits.

4)    Use fitness to combat depression or apathy

Gaining knowledge about diabetes is the first step to increasing your adherence to better diabetes self-care and to attaining good health. It’s also important to find ways to alleviate feelings of depression, which makes you feel less motivated to work out or take care of yourself. The irony of physical activity, though, is that it reduces depressive symptoms and anxiety, so remaining inactive may actually be contributing to your lack of motivation! To break this vicious cycle and to better motivate yourself to get more active, try following some or all of the motivational tips that follow. In addition, you’ll be most likely to follow the recommendations for effective diabetes care if you are more knowledgeable about diabetes, regularly check your blood sugars at home, have good health, and communicate better with your doctor, so do all of those things as well.

Tips for Keeping Your Exercise Motivation Strong
  • Plan to do physical activities that you really enjoy as often as possible
  • Have a backup plan that includes alternate activities in case of inclement weather or other barriers to your planned exercise
  • Distract yourself while you exercise by reading a book or magazine, watching TV, listening to music or a book on tape, or talking with a friend
  • Get yourself an exercise buddy (or even a dog who needs to be walked)
  • Schedule structured exercise into your day on your calendar or "To Do" list
  • Break your larger goals into smaller, realistic stepping stones (e.g., daily and weekly physical activity goals)
  • Reward yourself for meeting your goals with non-caloric treats or outings
  • Use sticker charts or other motivational tools to track your progress
  • Wear a pedometer (at least occasionally) as a reminder to take more daily steps
  • Don’t start out exercising too intensely or you’re likely to get discouraged or injured
  • If you get out of your normal routine and are having trouble getting restarted, simply take small steps in that direction until you’re back on track

If you need more information on managing or preventing type 2 diabetes in youth, please consult an updated and expanded version of Diabetes-Free Kids: A Take-Charge Plan for Preventing and Treating Type 2 Diabetes in Youth, which was released in August 2012 in both print and ebook formats. More information about this book and where to order it online can be found on my web site at www.shericolberg.com, along with other exercise/physical activity tips and books for active and sedentary adults with diabetes.

Copyright © 2012 Diabetes In Control, Inc.