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Exercise Prevents Diabetes

Exercise is even more important than weight loss for prevention or control of diabetes, according to a report from the Australian National University in Canberra (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, September 2007). Dr. Richard Telford concludes that obesity is associated with, but does not cause, diabetes, heart disease and premature death. The health benefits of exercise include increasing cells' ability to respond to insulin, lowering blood sugar levels, and preventing all the side effects of diabetes. Weight loss is not necessary for a person to gain these benefits from an exercise program.

Most cases of Type II diabetes are caused by the body's inability to respond to insulin. Strengthening muscles makes cells more responsive to insulin (Diabetes Care, September 2007). Your ability to respond to insulin depends on the ability of muscles to burn oxygen without producing excessive free radicals (called oxidative capacity). When your body converts food to energy, it produces free radicals that can damage the DNA in your cells to shorten life. Exercise causes cells to burn food for energy more efficiently, without producing large amounts of free radicals.

Thirty-five percent of Americans today can expect to become diabetic. To help prevent diabetes or heart disease, most people should exercise for about an hour a day, alternating vigorous and easy days. If they still have high blood sugar levels, they probably need to exercise more and may also need to take medications.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Is it true that weight loss during exercise is due only to loss of fluid?

If you weigh yourself before and after an hour or two of exercise, the difference is likely to be fluid loss. However, in events lasting several hours or even several days, measurable fat loss can occur. At a competitive 12-hour indoor stationary bicycle marathon, one athlete took fluids and food throughout the entire competition, and still lost 2.64 pounds (Schweizerische Rundschau für Medizin Praxis, July 2007). Of this weight loss, 1.98 pounds was due to loss of fat. His calculated muscle weight increased by 1.46 pounds due to damage to the muscle cells, which results in fluid retention in the cells.

During vigorous cycling, an athlete can burn between 600 and 1000 calories per hour, so this cyclist probably used more than 9000 calories in his 12-hour event. That is equal to the amount of energy needed to form almost three pounds of fat. He lost only two pounds of fat because of the prodigious amount of food and drink he took in during the marathon. You can lose fat during a single exercise session, but you have to be in extremely good shape and exercise for a very long time to accomplish this. For most exercisers, true weight loss will be measured over weeks or months.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Are hot tubs and saunas helpful or harmful for exercisers?

For many years I have believed that heating muscles in a whirlpool or sauna after exercise interferes with muscle contractions and hampers muscular endurance. However, a study from the University of Otago in New Zealand shows that taking a sauna after workouts for three weeks helped athletes to exercise longer to exhaustion (Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport / Sports Medicine Australia, August 2007).

Trained runners sat in a humid sauna for 30 minutes at 89.9 degrees centigrade immediately after exercising, 12 times in three weeks. They then ran as hard as they could on a treadmill for about 15 minutes, to exhaustion. Sauna use increased run time to exhaustion by 32 percent, which would equal an improvement of approximately two percent in a full-length endurance time trial. Their blood volumes increased by more than seven percent, and higher blood volume increases endurance. If further research confirms these findings, athletes will be advised to use saunas after their workouts for several weeks before competition.

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June 25th, 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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