How regular exercise can help you battle diabetes



A recent study conducted by Cambridge University researchers has shown that people suffering from Type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing as many as 57 other health complications, including cancer and neurological and kidney ailments. The study, which analysed data of 3 million people and 116 illnesses among middle aged people, was presented at the Diabetes UK professional conference in March.

The researchers found that Type 2 diabetes was associated with a 2.6 times higher risk of neurological issues, a 2.3 times higher risk of eye problems, 1.9 times higher risk of digestive issues and 1.8 times higher risk of mental ill health. People with Type 2 diabetes were 5.2 times more likely to have end-stage kidney disease, 4.4 times more likely to get liver cancer and 3.2 times more likely to develop a sight-threatening condition called macular degeneration. The study found that those with Type 2 diabetes developed the conditions, on average, five years earlier than people who didn’t have it.

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“There is a definite increase in the health conditions of those with diabetes. There is an increased risk of heart ailments, brain issues, foot ulcers, kidney problems, nerve issues, and eye problems,” says Dr Sunil Kumar Mishra, director forendocrinology and diabetology at the Medanta Hospital in Gurugram.

Type 2 diabetes is often linked to obesity or inactivity, or those with a family history of the disease. The good news is that it can be reversed through rapid weight loss, as was demonstrated by Professor Roy Taylor of Newcastle University in a groundbreaking study 11 years ago. The best way to manage and beat diabetes and thereby other illnesses and health complications is to adopt an active lifestyle that would lead to weight loss. 

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An active lifestyle not just helps us to keep in check diabetes, but also reduces the risk of other metabolic diseases like hypertension, polycystic ovarian disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and dyslipidemia, says Dr. Anupam Biswas, endocrinology consultant at the Fortis Hospital, Noida. “The American Diabetic Association also recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity for all the diabetic patients. In fact, two landmark studies—the Malmo study and the Indian Diabetes Prevention Program—clearly demonstrated the effect of lifestyle modification which includes exercise for the prevention of Type 2 diabetes,” says Biswas.

An important aspect of diabetes is insulin resistance. “Those who exercise regularly and are able to lose 5% of their body weight will see a marked improvement in their blood pressure, diabetes, and lipid and cholesterol levels,” says Mishra. “They are also at a reduced risk for cardiovascular diseases. Exercise improves the muscle glucose uptake and decreases insulin resistance in the muscles. This leads to blood glucose level decreases allowing for better circulation of the blood improving blood pressure. Subsequent improvement in seen in lipid and cholesterol levels too.” Whether it is a daily walk, jog, boot camp, or a sport you enjoy, you need to start being more active. It’s your best bet to beat diabetes and associated risk of the other 57 illnesses. 

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Another important aspect of tackling diabetes is your diet. For diabetics, their meal should be considered as their medicine, says Mishra. “Carbs, protein, fat, micro and macro nutrients should be balanced to attain good health. When on medication—orally or via insulin injections—unhealthy food might increase glucose level. The number of calories should be in accordance with medication a person with diabetes is taking. Refined wheat is unhealthy,” he says. Those with Type 2 diabetes should include two or three fruit servings (in moderation) daily. While they can eat all types of fruits, they must avoid drinking fruit juices, doctors and health experts say. They should also eat adequate amount of fiber. Diabetics can eat egg whites, the occasional egg yolk, nuts and seeds in moderation and avoid red meat.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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