Many diabetics want to begin a weight training regimen for exercise and health reasons. However, the question arises as to how insulin affects weight training and how you can exercise safely if you are diabetic.
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While insulin and exercise have been shown to have very definite effects on each other, the exact reasons behind those effects are still somewhat unclear. It is also important to emphasize that anyone, especially if you are managing an illness such as diabetes, should not begin an exercise or weight training program without first consulting your doctor.
Studies have shown that exercise increases the body’s ability to absorb insulin. This increased absorption has also been found to continue up to 48 hours after exercise, but after this point diminishes significantly. Therefore, if you are exercising as a way to increase your insulin absorption, you need to exercise regularly, ideally every day or every other day.
How does weight training or exercise help your body absorb insulin?
Studies are inconclusive as to whether your body’s increased ability to absorb insulin while exercising and just after is directly related to the exercise itself or not. Most likely both direct and indirect effects of exercise are involved.
While exercising your muscles are emptied of stored sugar, which allows them to absorb sugar from the bloodstream, thereby preventing your blood sugar levels from rising too high. Indirect effects of exercise occur because when you exercise regularly you may lose weight or your muscles will become better toned. In both of these cases your BMI (Body Mass Index) is lowered, which improves metabolism, leading to better insulin absorption.
What do you need to be concerned about in terms of how insulin affects weight training?
If you have insulin dependent diabetes and are taking insulin supplements, whether these are in the form of anything from a single injection a day, to a continuous pump, you need to be aware of your blood glucose levels, which could become too high while exercising. Since exercise improves the body’s ability to absorb insulin, it is very important to consult with your doctor before starting a weight training plan so that you do not end up with a dangerously high blood glucose level.
Your doctor will begin with a complete medical evaluation to establish baseline data levels, discuss with you the particular exercises that are best for you given your situation, the concerns you need to watch out for, and the risks for exercise causing a spike in blood glucose levels.
Some possible solutions for this that your doctor may suggest trying include:
- Avoid exercising while insulin is peaking
- Reduce your insulin by a set amount for each half hour or hour of exercise
- When first beginning a weight training regimen test your blood sugar levels frequently before, during, and after exercise to help determine what a safe exercise plan is for you and your specific needs
- Exercise at the same time each day when you know your blood glucose levels are safe
Start off with more simple, less strenuous, exercises, like taking short walks and gradually work your way up to more intense exercises such as mild to moderate weight lifting or increased aerobic activity. Very intense, strenuous exercise is generally not recommended, such as competitive weight lifting
In addition to the concern of too high of blood glucose levels while exercising, you also need to be concerned about your levels becoming too low, resulting in a situation known as hypoglycemia. If your blood glucose levels are too low when you start exercising your muscles will use up any stored sugar, but will then not have an adequate supply of blood sugar to absorb. This condition is serious and can often be easily overlooked because many of the symptoms (sweating, light headedness) are also side effects of strenuous exercise.
With careful management exercise can greatly help diabetic patients manage their insulin intake better and even reduce the need for insulin supplements. As long as a doctor carefully manages the exercise program and you take necessary precautions, such as checking your glucose levels frequently, a weight training or other exercise regimen is a great way to improve your overall health and well-being. In addition to increasing your body’s ability to absorb insulin, exercise can help with your circulation and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, all of which are other concerns associated with diabetes.
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