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The Fitness Zone

Exercise and Diabetes
October 19, 2014

There has been a steady increase in the diagnosis of diabetes around the world, as people's poor diet and lifestyle choices contribute to a heightened occurrence of of Type 2 diabetes.

According to Tara Cabassi and Kirby Larsen, Coaches at the Australian Institute of Fitness Western Australia, the alarming rise in the number of diabetics today should motivate personal trainers to gain a better understanding of the condition, and find exercises to help alleviate it.

Diabetes is a complex condition that can affect the entire body. Our bodies need to be able to effectively convert glucose from food into energy. For this to happen, the hormone insulin is essential. For people with diabetes, insulin is either no longer produced or not present in their bloodstream. This in turn means there’s an accumulation of chemicals in the blood from burning fat rather than sugar, known as ketoacidosis. This can be dangerous.

There are three main types of diabetes that you should know about:

Insulin Dependent Diabetes (Type 1)

Insulin Dependent Diabetes (Type 1) requires the patient to take insulin injections on a daily basis in order to maintain adequate glucose levels. In Australia, about 10-15% of all cases are Type 1 Diabetes. While there is no known cure for Type 1 Diabetes, it can be managed with medication and a healthy lifestyle. Monitoring of blood glucose levels before, during and after exercise is recommended for Type 1 suffers.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes, or Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes, is much more common than Type 1, making up the other 85-90% of cases. Type 2 occurs when the pancreas produces some insulin, but not enough to sustain regular blood sugar levels. Quite often this is a result of environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors. Risk factors such as high blood pressure, being overweight or obese, insufficient exercise and poor diet can increase a person's susceptibility to developing Type 2 Diabetes. It can be managed with healthy eating and regular physical exercise, which is where you, as a personal trainer, come in!

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational Diabetes develops in 3-8% of women between the 24th to 28th weeks of their pregnancy. Pregnant women need 2 to 3 times more insulin than normal, and if the body can’t produce it Gestational Diabetes can occur. If the condition is not managed, it may result in an abnormally large baby, a miscarriage, or even a still birth.

So how can we help?

As mentioned earlier, physical activity plays a big role in alleviating symptoms. Exercise can help in the following ways:

  • Controlling weight and losing weight to be within a healthy weight range.

  • Lowering blood cholesterol levels.

  • Reducing the risk of heart disease.

  • Reducing stress hormones/levels.

  • Improving mood and sleep quality.

  • Improve muscle strength and bone mass.

  • Lowering blood pressure.

  • Can help get insulin working in the body more effectively and remain within the target range. .

The recommended types of effective exercise to help someone with diabetes are walking, swimming, dancing, water aerobics, and even gardening.

Personal trainers need to avoid suggesting exercises that may cause postural changes in the body, as they may lead to blood pressure problems. You also want to make sure your clients monitor their blood glucose levels both before and after exercise, as well as include an extended warm up and cool down. It’s important when training diabetics to make sure they always have insulin or glucose lollies on them, in case their glucose levels drop too low when training. Jelly beans are an easily digestible form of pure sugar that can help boost glucose levels quickly, so keep those handy!

The main symptoms

Some of the main symptoms associated with low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) include:

  • Headaches.

  • Nausea and lightheadedness.

  • Changes in mood.

  • Sweating and paleness in complexion.

Without the right treatment, symptoms may worsen and can include:

  • Disorientation.

  • Inability to drink or swallow.

  • Inability to stand.

  • Lack of coordination.

  • Loss of consciousness.

  • Seizures.

How to react in an emergency

It’s important to call emergency services when required and get urgent medical attention. If your client can no longer swallow or is unconscious, this is a medical emergency and therefore must be treated like one.

If you clients have diabetes, it’s important they seek the advice of a doctor before entering into any new exercise regime. For those with diabetes, carrying a “hypo” pack is a good idea when exercising, as they are useful if they experience symptoms of hypoglycaemia.

Remember, most people with diabetes are Type 2 which is a result of unhealthy lifestyle factors, so working with your client means you’ll be making positive changes to various aspects of their lives. Diet is crucial in managing diabetes, but physical activity can play a large role in helping to reduce symptoms and severity. 

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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