A report carried out by Diabetes UK shows that, since 1996, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK has risen from 1.4 million to 3.5 million.

Being overweight and obese, having a poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle and a lack of physical activity are all enormous risk factors for this chronic disease, affecting 6% of the UK population.

Diabetes is a disorder where the body cannot properly use and store sugars that a person consumes in their food and drink. This results in the blood glucose levels being too high, which is known as hyperglycaemia.

There are two types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, called insulin-dependent diabetes, which affects 6% of patients, and type 2 diabetes, which affects 92% of patients.

Diabetes results from a lack of insulin and glucagon regulation - these are the two hormones that can reduce the level of glucose in the blood. The effects of diabetes can however be limited by the best non-pharmaceutical treatment: physical activity and sports. Sports have been proven to help manage many chronic illnesses, both physical and mental. Exercising can even reduce the risk of cancer returning and sports have a positive effect on people suffering from depression.

Manage your illness with regular physical activity!
Living with diabetes can be tough, but exercise will make all the difference. Photo via VisualHunt

It has been shown that sports activities help to reduce the risk of illness, especially for people with diabetes because their blood vessels are more fragile than those who don’t have the condition.

In this article, Superprof focuses on the relationship between sports and health, and the impact of sports coaching on patients suffering from diabetes.

Diabetes: Consult Your Doctor Before Starting Personal Training

Before purchasing a gym membership or organising personal training sessions at home, it’s important to seek medical advice from your doctor.

This is for a few reasons. People can often can believe themselves to be in good health and can uncover an underlying illness when having a check-up.

There are lots of risks involved when a person has diabetes, so it’s best to check you are physically capable of exercise before you start. We don’t necessarily always know when our health is at risk.

This is why it’s reassuring to carry out a check-up so that you can limit the risk of a stroke or other such illness during physical exertion.

It’s also important to consult a medical professional before starting an exercise plan because they will be able to advise you on which sports or activities are appropriate and can be best adapted to someone who suffers from diabetes.

Your doctor can help you to:

  • Determine the pace and intensity of an activity
  • Prevent episodes of hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia occurring
  • Measure your blood pressure and general health - the right kind of exercise is good for lowering blood pressure, but the wrong kind can do you more harm than good!
  • Advise you on precautions that need to be taken
  • Check that the medicines you might be taking won’t put you at risk
  • Keep a record to monitor your health, such as blood glucose and diet
  • Adapt your insulin dosage depending on the activity’s intensity

Being active will inevitably help to improve your level of fitness and physique, as well as blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

The advantage of consulting a doctor before talking to a personal trainer is that if a diabetic person has a family history, a doctor will be able to advise the patient on a suitable exercise training plan.

If practicing a sport serves as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, it’s really important to monitor the pace and intensity of the activity, and adjust your diet and insulin dosage accordingly so that you have enough energy to withstand the exertion.

A Few Tips for Exercising when you have Diabetes

The number one piece of advice that’s given to people with diabetes, although it pretty much goes without saying, is to systematically monitor their blood glucose levels before, during and after any physical activity.

A diabetic person’s main worry is hypoglycaemia, commonly referred to as a hypo, which is when a person’s blood sugar level falls below 4 mmol/L.

This drop in blood sugar can occur up to several hours after exercise, which is why it’s so important to keep a close eye on your blood sugar after your work out.

As a diabetic person, it’s really important to do the following when starting a new exercise plan:

  • Seek medical advice, especially if you have been sedentary for a long time previously
  • Avoid short bursts of very intense exercise: opt for more endurance-based activities like jogging, cycling, swimming, tennis – and take regular breaks!
  • Carry a small sweet snack in your pocket to avoid feeling unwell or having a hypo
  • Always have your phone on you in case of emergency
  • Take your blood glucose kit and a medical ID card
  • Inform your coach or whomever you exercise with
  • Eat simple carbohydrates for slow-release energy to keep you going during your workout
  • Don’t hesitate to let your coach know of any problems you are experiencing, as they will be trained to deal with all sorts of medical situations
  • Keep hydrated throughout and after your work out
  • Be strict with your diet: steer clear of sweets, added sugars, sugar in coffee, etc. Opt for lean meat and fish and lots of vegetables
  • Make sure your family or close friends can administer your insulin in case of an emergency
  • Whether you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, you should always keep a close eye on your blood sugar levels and measure them regularly.

An online personal trainer can help you regulate your fitness routine.

Remember to stay on top of your nutrition alongside your exercise!
A healthy diet and exercise is the best way to stay in shape and manage the symptoms of diabetes. Photo via Visual Hunt

The Benefits of Physical Activity for People with Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes when the pancreas doesn’t produce and secrete any insulin. This lack of insulin means that glucose stays in the blood and doesn’t get used as fuel for energy. The body then tries to reduce the blood glucose levels by excreting in in the urine.

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by the body not producing enough insulin to function properly, or the body’s cells not reacting to insulin if it is present. Type 2 diabetes is more often linked to obesity and being overweight, and is usually diagnosed in older people.

Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1, and has a tendency to get much worse if proper medical care isn’t sought.

We’ve already mentioned it, but doing sports really does contribute to regulating this problem for diabetics. Exercise has a hypoglycaemic effect: after physical exertion, there is more glucose in the blood before training than afterwards.

In short, physical activity - whether in the gym, at home or outdoors - have a huge impact on diabetes in its ability lower blood glucose levels. This is why we feel thirst and hunger after a workout, because the body needs sugar and water to recuperate.

Whether it's cardio, weights, stretching, pilates, swimming, cycling or team sports, for example, exercise will always prevent the complications of diabetes.

Physical activity helps to get glucose into the muscle cells because the exertion makes the body use up more energy. People with type 1 diabetes can therefore consequently reduce their insulin dosage.

For type 2 diabetes, sport and fitness is enormously therapeutic and beneficial as it makes insulin production more efficient.

This is why athletes are much less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer or obesity, as exercise builds muscle, and keeps the body strong, healthy and in great shape.

Being overweight or obese is a huge factor in bringing on and aggravating diabetes, because the more fat that is in the body, the more the body requires insulin.

If the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to meet the body’s needs, then the person is at high risk of developing diabetes. The fat attached to the cells stops the glucose from getting into the muscles.

This is why weight loss will work wonders for your diabetes! Starting an exercise regime to lose weight and sticking to a lean and nutritious diet will soon bring about astounding results, and improve the symptoms of diabetes – as well as reducing the risks of other illnesses too.

What Exercise is Best when you have Diabetes?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.

Walking is a great way to regulate the body and keep fit!
Get on top of diabetes with endurance sports. Photo via Visualhunt.com

As we mentioned earlier, people suffering with diabetes should opt for low intensity exercise for more prolonged periods of time. So aim for endurance rather than intense intervals.

So try to steer clear of sprinting or any sports that are considered fairly extreme such as climbing, parachuting, motorsports or scuba diving, as it can put a person you at risk of accidents and cardiovascular injury.

Diabetics still have loads of choice when it comes to picking a new sports hobby! Take for example:

  • Jogging
  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Table tennis
  • Tennis (for fun rather than too competitively)
  • Team sports (such as football, volleyball, hockey, basketball, etc.)

When approaching exercise just make sure to set yourself reasonable physical goals based on your current fitness level, metabolism and your type of diabetes. Always start off easy and build your way up to more activity gradually.

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Ellen is a writer and translator with a passion for literature, traveling and learning new languages.