What You Need to Know About Insulin and Exercise

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By : dLife Editors

By LaurieAnn Scher, MS, RD, CDE

Exercise, along with good blood glucose control and healthy eating, is key to managing your diabetes. For many people, insulin can make exercising seem like a difficult feat – but it doesn’t have to be.

With the right knowledge, you can start working out without fear! Read on for some “did you knows?” on insulin and exercise.

1. Did you know that the presence of insulin prevents the body from using fat as a source of energy?

If you are on insulin therapy, you must be careful when performing aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise stimulates your body to burn fat for energy; however, the presence of injectable insulin can prevent your body from utilizing fat as an energy source.

Talk to your doctor about making adjustments to your basal rates when performing aerobic exercise for safety and optimal weight loss.

2. Did you know that for people with Type 2 diabetes, interval-based strength training improves sensitivity to insulin?

Interval training is a type of physical activity that alternates between activity and rest or lighter activity during the same workout.

Interval training improves insulin sensitivity because the active muscles use up glucose for energy which then needs to be replaced after the activity is finished.

In addition, the activity performed increases the size of the muscles and therefore the amount of glucose that can ultimately be stored by those particular muscles.

This method of exercise not only improves insulin sensitivity, but it burns calories, builds endurance, and keeps workouts interesting and fun.

3. Did you know that the time of day may influence the effectiveness of exercise in lowering your blood sugar levels?

Are you someone who wakes up extra early to exercise and you don’t see improvements in blood glucose numbers or any loss of weight?

This may be due to the Dawn Phenomenon. The Dawn Phenomenon is the natural release of hormones overnight that causes your liver to release glucose into your bloodstream.

This results in elevated blood glucose levels that are unresponsive to the glucose-lowering effects of exercise. By changing the timing of your workouts from morning to later in the day, you can avoid the negative impact of the Dawn Phenomenon on your workout.

The best way to manage this is by testing your blood sugar before, during and after your workout and discussing your findings with your health care provider.

Do you notice that when you have been exercising on a regular basis, your blood sugar numbers tend to be in a better range and you feel better?

A person living with Type 2 diabetes can use exercise to manipulate their glucose and insulin levels for a better outcome.

Regular exercise for all the reasons discussed on the previous slides is something that you can do for yourself to help your diabetes.

Think of exercise as something that you do for yourself, instead of always feeling deprived with what you cannot do or cannot eat as someone with diabetes; here is something that you can do that will make you feel good on so many levels.

Physical activity helps with weight control, assists your body to use insulin more effectively, decreases stress, makes you stronger and feels good.

4. Have you ever gone low when you are exercising?

Experiencing a low blood sugar during exercise does not mean that you should not be working out it just means that you need to speak to your provider.

There are many different types of oral medications for Type 2 diabetes; some of them work by increasing your insulin sensitivity.

Exercise may cause these medications to work quicker and with more effectiveness than if taken without any physical activity.

Remember to always check your blood sugar before, during and after your workout and stay within the guidelines that your health care provider has given you.

Speak to your doctor about how your medications respond to physical activity and always monitor your glucose levels in order to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugars) when performing any exercise.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition. 

Updated by dLife Editors 4/19.