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Why is exercise so important for diabetics?

Thirty-five percent of all Americans will develop diabetes, which can cause heart attacks, strokes, blindness, deafness, impotence, amputations, kidney failure and sudden death. Three studies show why virtually all diabetics should exercise. The first study shows that exercising before a meal markedly reduces the rise in blood sugar that usually peaks 20 minutes after you eat (Lipids in Health & Disease, October 2005). The second shows that exercise lowers HBA1C in diabetics (Journal of Obesity, October 2002), while the third shows that exercise lowers high blood pressure (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, August 2005)

When you eat, your blood sugar level rises. In diabetics, most of the damage is done within 20 minutes after you eat because that’s the time that blood sugar levels are at their highest. The higher blood sugar rises, the more sugar sticks on cells. Once sugar is stuck on a cell, it can never get off. It is eventually converted to a poison called sorbitol that destroys the cell. This cell destruction causes all of the horrible side effects of diabetes.

Doctors measure the amount of sugar stuck on cells with a blood test called HBA1C. The first goal in treating diabetes is to use drugs and diet to get HBA1C below 6. Since blood sugar levels are highest 20 minutes after you eat, you should do everything possible to prevent the high rise in blood sugar that follows meals. The only places that your body can store sugar are in your muscles and your liver. After you eat, sugar goes from your intestines into your bloodstream. Then if your muscles are empty from exercise, the sugar can pass into your muscles. However, if your muscles are full because you do not exercise, the sugar has no place to go and blood sugar rises to very high levels to stick to cells and destroy your body.

Exercise is also vital for diabetics because it helps to control blood pressure. Eighty percent of diabetics die of heart disease, and anything that increases risk for heart attacks puts diabetics in danger. High blood pressure is a major risk for heart attacks and strokes. Since exercise lowers high blood pressure, it helps to prevent heart attacks and thus to keep diabetics alive.

January 8, 2006

May 19th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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