Exercise: The Diabetes Secret Weapon

“I Feel Like a New Person”
Let’s say a dramatic treatment hit the market that could drop your blood sugar from 386 to 106 mg/dl, help you lose 100 pounds in 14 months, and squelch any ideas of using insulin. Would you be interested? Joseph Grossmann of Albany, New York, sure was — and those were his results. But it wasn’t a powerful new drug the 53-year-old took. In fact, he’s off all medication. His secret weapon? Exercise.

Grossmann walks his three dogs four to five miles a day, does pushups and sit-ups, digs in his garden, and lifts boxes at his job in a floral shop, and he rounds out his “treatment” with a meal plan of fresh vegetables, fish, and chicken. “I feel like a new person,” he says. “I’m proof that if you take a hold of exercise and diet, you really can control your diabetes and make your whole life a lot better.”

You’ve heard for years that exercise is good for you. But it has specific benefits for people with diabetes — a fact that healers in ancient cultures like India’s and China’s recognized centuries ago. Since then, scientists have discovered exactly how exercise works its magic. Here’s what it does:

Lowers blood sugar. Putting your muscles into action is like hitting your car’s accelerator: It instantly boosts the demand for fuel — namely, glucose. Once your muscles exhaust their own supply of glucose, they clean out the stores in your liver, then draw glucose straight from the bloodstream, lowering your blood sugar. When you’re done exercising, your body gives top priority to replenishing glucose stores in the liver and muscles rather than the blood, which means that your blood sugar will stay lower for hours — perhaps for as long as a couple of days, depending on how hard you worked out.

Boosts insulin sensitivity. If you exercise regularly, you can actually lower your level of insulin resistance. That’s because exercise forces muscles to use glucose more efficiently by making cells more receptive to insulin. It’s as if getting physical gives your cells a kick in the pants: If they absolutely must have more glucose, they’ll work harder to get it. Exercise also boosts the number of insulin receptors. Do it regularly and you’ll perpetuate good blood-sugar control. In fact, the effect won’t entirely fade away unless you go for about 72 hours without a workout. Even if you’ve been a die-hard couch potato for years, you can ratchet up your insulin sensitivity with exercise in as little as one week.

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