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How does exercise prevent diabetes?

A study from Yale showed that intense exercise is far more effective in preventing and controlling diabetes than exercising at a leisurely pace (Journal of Applied Physiology, January 2006). Inactive, healthy, non-obese women over 72 years of age were started in training programs of hard (80 percent of aerobic capacity), moderate (65 percent) and easy (50 percent). All three groups did the same amount of work, burning 300 calories per session. The intense group had a great improvement in their ability to use sugar and suppress fat formation, while the low intensity group had little benefit.

This means that intense exercise can help both to prevent and to treat diabetes. The most tissue damage occurs immediately after eating, when blood sugar levels rise the highest. After you eat, sugar goes from the intestines into the bloodstream. The only places that sugar can be stored are in your muscles and liver. When your muscles are not exercised, they are full of sugar and sugar has no place to go after it enters your bloodstream. On the other hand, when your muscles are exercised, they empty their stored sugar. Then when you eat, sugar can go from the intestines into the bloodstream and then immediately into the muscles, preventing a high rise in blood sugar.

The exciting news from this study is that the more intensely you exercise, the greater the protection from developing diabetes and the better the control of your diabetes if you already have it. Caution: 75 percent of diabetics die from heart disease. Some people can suffer heart attacks during intense exercise, so check with your doctor before you increase the intensity of your exercise program.

Checked 1/23/14

May 18th, 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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