I recently read a sobering statistic. Nearly 50 percent of boomers are prediabetic. This means that we have blood sugar levels that are above normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with full-blown type 2 diabetes.
What is equally concerning is that many of us who are prediabetic have no idea that we are. So we probably aren’t making the lifestyle changes that we need to make to help delay or even prevent our prediabetes from progressing to diabetes.
One way to help better manage our blood glucose levels is to be physically active. I always knew that being active is important for our general health. But I really had no clue how dangerous being inactive – even for a short period of time – could be for those of us who may be prediabetic.
For example, there is current research which shows that being inactive for just two weeks can trigger diabetic symptoms in overweight, older adults who were already at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. These symptoms included reduced strength, increased insulin resistance, and loss of muscle mass.
To make this news worse, an abrupt drop in activity levels – which has happened since the pandemic started – elevated blood sugar levels and sped up the onset of diabetes.
In addition, you may not fully recover even after returning to normal activity levels for two weeks. So not only does inactivity exacerbate pre-diabetes, you may never return to being as healthy as you were before.
Now this definitely got my attention – as it should yours.
How Does Physical Activity Help Keep Diabetes at Bay?
A long time, even perhaps decades, before you show symptoms of glucose intolerance (a more medical term for prediabetes), you will first develop increased insulin resistance.
When this happens, your cells don’t take in and use insulin as efficiently as they are supposed to. As a result, your blood glucose levels may start to “creep up” until you are diagnosed as prediabetic.
Activity can decrease your body’s resistance to insulin so that the insulin you have works better with your cells. This results in lower levels of glucose in your blood, and “your numbers” will improve. This is because your muscles need and use glucose more than your other organs.
When you exercise, or increase your activity level in any way, your muscles first use the glucose they have stored for energy and then take some glucose from your blood for the rest.
This helps reduce the amount of glucose circulation in your body, your glucose levels come down, and your body more readily maintains an optimal level of glucose in your blood.
Some Good Activities to Consider
If you aren’t someone who is used to being active, here are some suggestions that will help get you on the right path.
If the idea of exercise is not all that appealing to you, the great thing is that any activity that gets you moving is good. Since I really enjoy hiking with my dogs, I mention walking a lot in my blogs – it’s fun.
It gets me outdoors, and only 30 minutes a day makes a big difference in my health and mental outlook. But you can really do any physical activity that you enjoy. The secret is doing it consistently throughout the week.
While walking at any time is great, taking the time to do it for just 10 minutes after a meal – rather than “bundling” all your walking into one longer walk – also has many benefits when it comes to helping you manage your glucose levels. Yes, the timing matters!
Blood glucose levels were much lower when study participants walked for just 10 minutes after each meal vs. walking 30-minutes on a single daily occasion. So, if you have trouble remembering to walk, try setting an alarm on your phone.
Another activity you may also want to consider adding to your routine is yoga. There is a wealth of credible evidence to suggest that yoga may prevent the development of diabetes in high risk individuals.
Never forget resistance training (otherwise known as lifting weights). First off, if you’re worried about putting on too much muscle and looking like a bodybuilder, I can tell you that isn’t going to happen. You may gain some muscle tone, but that is about it.
Also, if you believe that women “our age” don’t do resistance training, I ask you to rethink that and keep an open mind!
But back to your health. Resistance exercise is important for increasing muscle strength and helping keep muscle mass, both of which help maintain glucose levels.
Nutrition Is Another Part of the Equation
Of course, all the walking, weight lifting, and other exercising in the world won’t amount to much when it comes to managing prediabetes or diabetes if you’re not eating right.
In fact, there are those who believe that when it comes to diabetes, diet is probably more important than exercise. And, given that being overweight is the single highest risk factor, they may be right.
While you already know much of this, it does bear repeating. Eating healthily and ensuring that you are nutritionally balanced is key to avoiding diabetes.
For example, the first thing you can commit to do is to avoid processed sugars. Identify foods high in lactic acid or acetic acid, like vinegar, which can regulate glucose production and absorption.
There are also nutrients which may help with normal insulin function like magnesium, chromium, and fiber. Foods with these nutrients include pistachios, bananas (ripe and green), eggs, and green peppers.
Finally, it may also be a good idea to avoid the use of open-flame and/or high-temperature cooking, including grilling, barbecuing, broiling and roasting, to cook meat because this may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
By combining healthy eating with exercise, you will have the formula for helping to delay or prevent prediabetes from progressing to diabetes.
What measures do you take to prevent prediabetes? Have you incorporated exercise into your proactive routine to better manage it? What about diet? Does one work better than another for you? Tell us all about it. Please join the conversation.