Diabetes: doing sport helps blood glucose control

When we talk about diabetes today, we are talking about a disease whose incidence, in Italy and worldwide, is constantly increasing

Suffice it to say that in our country, about 5.3% of the population is affected by diabetes.

The risk factors for diabetes also include the parallel growth of pathologies such as obesity and metabolic syndrome, which are caused by incorrect lifestyles characterised by sedentariness and poor diet.

Having an active life, on the other hand, is essential both to prevent diabetes and in support of treatment in diabetes patients.

Regular exercise in harmony with one’s state of health is essential because it helps keep weight under control, reduce blood sugar and blood pressure, and increase insulin sensitivity and HDL cholesterol, the so-called ‘good cholesterol’.

In addition to targeted training, it is useful to change one’s daily habits, for example by getting used to walking or cycling more, or choosing the stairs instead of the lift.

What is diabetes

Diabetes is a disease characterised by increased blood sugar levels.

When the patient has a defect in the action of insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas that keeps blood glucose levels stable, diabetes develops.

This can be of two types: type 1 diabetes, a rarer and very severe form that is associated with the total absence of insulin due to the action of autoantibodies, and type 2 diabetes, which affects about 90% of diabetic patients.

Type 2 diabetes is generally caused by insulin resistance, i.e. a decrease in the ability of insulin to act, which leads to an increase in hepatic glucose production and, at the same time, a lower consumption of glucose by the muscles.

If type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, the situation is different when it comes to type 2 diabetes.

In this case, in fact, lifestyle plays a crucial role in terms of prevention: a balanced diet and the habitual practice of physical activity help reduce blood glucose levels.

Diabetes: therapy, blood glucose control and lifestyle

Diabetes, if neglected, can lead to the development of complications affecting the cardiovascular system, kidneys, eye, and nerves, which can severely affect quality of life.

The patient with diabetes must therefore adopt a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet, and scrupulously follow the therapies, which include drugs that normalise glycaemia and, if necessary, medicines to control other complications of the disease.

For optimal management of this pathology, the diabetes specialist may be supported by other professionals such as a dietician, cardiologist, nephrologist, neurologist and ophthalmologist.

Lastly, an element of fundamental importance in the treatment of diabetes is self-monitoring of blood glucose, which, depending on the type of diabetes and its severity, can be done a few dozen times a year or even daily.

A diagnosis of diabetes therefore changes the organisation of the life of the patient affected by it.

This should not be taken to mean, however, that diabetes patients cannot lead normal lives or have to follow particularly restrictive diets.

In fact, people with diabetes can eat everything, and it will be the specialist who will indicate which foods should be eaten in moderation and in small quantities; in general, it is good to avoid excess carbohydrates (rice, sweets) and fats (fried foods, red meat) and to favour vegetables and fruit in the right quantities.

Diabetes: the benefits of physical activity

Physical activity, as we have said, also contributes to controlling diabetes.

Sport, in fact, improves insulin sensitivity and, therefore, the patient’s metabolic parameters.

Despite the importance of exercise in the treatment of the disease, the data are not encouraging: only 20% of patients with diabetes practise sport regularly.

Obviously, sporting activity should be carried out in agreement with one’s doctor and according to one’s physical condition, but one should try to lead as active a life as possible.

Diabetes: which sport to do?

Those who are not in a condition to practise sport can start with moderate exercise: walking, for example, even without excessive exertion, is an excellent activity that one should do for about 30 minutes a day five times a week.

Those who are diabetic can also try ‘interval training’, i.e. alternating slow and fast walking: a type of exercise that helps blood sugar control and is good for the cardiovascular system.

Stretching is also useful, as it helps to improve muscle flexibility and increase performance levels.

In general, aerobic activity, such as walking, yoga, Pilates or cycling, as well as being practicable for almost everyone, is also the one that benefits the metabolism the most.

Nordic walking, on the other hand, which involves the use of hiking sticks, is suitable for those who can sustain more intense exercise.

This activates the muscles in the arms and torso and the push also increases energy expenditure, promoting a reduction in body weight and training the cardiorespiratory capacity.

In any case, those who are fit can now devote themselves to the sport of their choice, and even to sports that were once considered forbidden to diabetic patients (e.g. mountaineering, parachuting, scuba diving): thanks to new control technologies, in fact, blood glucose management is simpler and more precise, and it is much easier than it used to be to prevent hypoglycaemia and thus reduce the risk of losing consciousness at times when it could be particularly dangerous.

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