Jul 29, 2022 – Most likely, this story is about you alone. How can I know?
First, a bit of motivational reality: Nearly two in five American adults, 96 million of us, have prediabetes, according to the latest US government estimate.
As its name implies, prediabetes is a kind of metabolic purgatory. It means you have chronically high blood sugar, and you’re on your way to type 2 diabetes if you don’t control it.
And type 2: about 37 million Americans live with it every day. That means about 130 million people in the US have trouble processing glucose from their bloodstream.
If that sounds serious, well, it is. Chances are you’re caught in that web because so many American adults are. Fortunately, there is a proven way to avoid all the hassle.
Exercise is the easiest, cheapest and most accessible preventative/control medicine you can take.
The more you move, and the more often, the better your body controls the flow of glucose in and out of your bloodstream.
All it takes to understand it is four quick and easy lessons.
Lesson 1: Blood Sugar Basics
A healthy 150-pound adult has only one teaspoon of sugar, 4 grams, swirling around in the blood at any given time.
That fact is incredible, considering how much sugar the average American consumes in a day (17 teaspoons) and how important that miniscule supply is to our survival (60% of it is absorbed by the brain).
So where does it all go?
Your body uses some energy. Your muscles and liver store some in the form of glycogen. Anything left over turns to fat.
It works in reverse when you go a few hours between meals. Your body keeps your blood levels stable by removing some of that glycogen from your muscles and liver, changing it back to glucose and returning it to your bloodstream.
Meanwhile, your body primarily uses fat for fuel while you’re at rest, which helps preserve stored glycogen for when you really need it: during exercise.
That’s why physical activity is a key element in controlling blood sugar. Now, the first question that many people ask themselves is: “What exercise should I do?” Another way to ask, “What is the best exercise to control my blood sugar?”
The quick answer is: any movement is positive. The longer answer is: Different types of exercise help you control your blood sugar in different ways. The same with different intensities within each category.
And we’ll get into all of that. But let’s start with a simpler question: What is the least How much exercise can you do and still get a measurable benefit?
Lesson 2: A small move can go a long way
Spencer Nadolsky, DO, is a board-certified family physician who specializes in treating patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes. He is also a former Division I college heavyweight wrestler and the founder of LiftRx, a strength training online.
So when Nadolsky talks to his patients about exercise, he’s expected to focus on resistance training.
“I try to get them to walk,” he says. Why walk? “It’s not too demanding, most patients can start right away and can progress quickly.”
The “start immediately” part is crucial. They do not need individual instruction, special equipment, or a structured training program.
The benefits come immediately, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. In his recent position paper on exercise and type 2 diabetes, he points out that any type of physical activity increases the transport of glucose from the blood to the muscles.
Exercise also has a profound effect on your body’s response to insulin, the hormone most responsible for controlling blood sugar. Insulin sensitivity remains elevated for up to 72 hours after exercise.
A 2016 study found that walking 11 miles a week was enough to keep prediabetes from turning into full-blown type 2 diabetes. If you walk at a moderate pace (4 mph), you can cover 11 miles in just under 3 hours. That’s 30 minutes a day, 5-6 days a week.
While a little exercise is good, more is better. A long-running study on the prevention of type 2 diabetes found that the more exercise participants did, the lower their risk.
But at some point, “doing more” stops being a realistic option. Even if you can tolerate repetition, eventually you run out of hours in the day.
Fortunately, there is another option, one that helps you control your blood sugar in a fraction of the time.
Lesson 3: Harder work produces faster results
Martin Gibala, PhD, published his first study on high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in 2005, when he was an assistant professor of exercise science at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
He is now the chair of the department, thanks in part to the dozens of HIIT studies he has published since then. He is also the author of The One-Minute Workout: Science Shows a Way to Get Fit That’s Smarter, Faster, and Shorter.
You can find many ways to do HIIT workouts. For example, after a short warm-up, you might push hard on a stationary bike for 30 seconds, recover at a slower pace for 60 seconds, and repeat several times. In just 10 minutes, you can get a pretty good workout.
And you don’t even have to try. As Gibala explains in his book, the interval walking – moving faster, then slower – offers more fitness benefits than just walking at your normal pace.
HIIT helps you control your blood sugar in two important ways:
1. It offers significant reductions in less time.
In a 2012 study, Gibala’s team showed that a single HIIT workout improved post-meal glucose response among people with type 2 diabetes.
The same thing happens with time. Looking at hemoglobin A1c (average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months), high-intensity intervals lowered blood sugar at least as well as traditional cardio, but with much shorter workouts.
As an added benefit, among people with type 2 diabetes, HIIT may be better at reducing body weight and body fat.
2. HIIT uses more muscle fibers.
When you do cardio at a steady pace, you primarily use the smaller, slow-twitch muscle fibers. But when you go hard and fast, you’re also recruiting the larger, fast-twitch fibers.
Using more total muscle mass means you use more total energy, much of which comes from glycogen stored in those muscles. Your muscles then extract glucose from your blood to replace glycogen.
Over time, Gibala says, your muscles increase the amount of glycogen they have in store, although muscles don’t necessarily get bigger.
But what if you built bigger muscles?
Lesson 4: Lifting gives you room to grow
Nadolsky once joked who doesn’t lift weights to look better. It does this to create more room to store carbohydrates. (As your online followers will know, dietary carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and other sugars during digestion. Glycogen in the muscles and liver is the storage form of those carbohydrates.)
While it takes time to build bigger muscles, the process offers immediate benefits.
Strength training, like any other type of exercise, will sensitize your muscles to insulin, says Nadolsky. That means your muscles will be primed to pull more glucose from your bloodstream in the hours after your workout.
With months of consistent lifting, people with type 2 diabetes will typically increase muscle size and strength, improve blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, and increase bone mineral density, all by about 10 to 15 percent. %.
But there’s no need to limit yourself to just one form of exercise. “In the long run, everyone has benefits,” says Nadolsky. “My advice is to get a mix of everything.”
Your weekly mix could include two workouts that combine strength training and HIIT, and two longer cardio sessions. Or you could walk 5 or 6 days a week, but on 2 or 3 of those days vary your walking speed between a faster and slower pace.
For blood sugar control, some exercise is always better than no exercise. More exercise brings more benefits. But constant exercise is the best of all.