1. BURN SUGAR, FORGET FAT—FOR NOW
Everyone knows that the body converts carbs to blood sugar (glucose); diabetics know that excess carbs produce excess glucose, which can lead to hyperglycemia. And failing to treat hyperglycemia can lead to ketoacidosis (diabetic coma) and even death. Ketoacidosis develops when your body doesn’t have enough insulin or your body is not using insulin effectively.
Other issues that could cause ketoacidosis: stress from an illness, such as a cold or flu, or stress induced by family or personal problems. Short of a coma, symptoms can include shortness of breath, breath that smells fruity, nausea, vomiting or a most common symptom, very dry mouth, and thirst.
For those diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), ketoacidosis can occur because you may not have given yourself enough insulin. T1D is caused by the immune system killing insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Odd when you think about it, the immune system is designed and functions to save you from disease. For Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), it may occur because your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or you may have enough insulin, but cells become resistant requiring more and more insulin.
2. INSULIN HELPS BODY TISSUE CELLS ABSORB BLOOD SUGAR
Obviously we can limit our sugar intake through diet, and when we exercise our muscles burn blood sugar. Also, the more active we are, the more sensitive our cells become to insulin (whether it’s generated by the pancreas or injected) and the more glucose our cells can absorb. In fact, exercise can drastically reduce how much injected insulin we need. Even a mild workout, like walking or doing light housework, can lower blood sugar and improve how your body responds to insulin. When you don’t move around enough, your glucose levels can rise.
3. HOW INSULIN WORKS
Carbs in the food we eat produce glucose, sugar in our bloodstream. Insulin alerts our tissue cells to new sugar deliveries, so muscles can pull in sugar from our blood as fuel. Inactive muscles, though, don’t need much fuel—if the carb sugar from a dish of pasta isn’t burned by activity our kidneys store that sugar away in reserve, for future use. But if that sugar isn’t burned soon, by activity, it turns to fat. (Insulin also serves as our fat-storing hormone.)
4. TOO MUCH STORED FAT = OBESITY
Obesity can be especially harmful to diabetics. By itself, obesity doesn’t cause T2D, but excess fat can block insulin from being absorbed by our cells, and it’s this insulin resistance that leads to T2D. Fat around the belly is a special problem. Belly fat wraps around our internal organs and can interfere with their functions. This is especially critical for the liver, which processes insulin as well regulates blood sugar. If fat seeps into the liver, it may signal the body to stop processing insulin, leading to potentially severe glucose imbalances, which force us to pump more and more insulin into our bodies. It becomes a vicious cycle—more fat, more insulin, more fat, more insulin . . . (Drug companies love it when we manage our sugar this way.)
5. SUGAR GOOD—TOO MUCH SUGAR BAD
Your body needs a certain level of sugar in its bloodstream at all times as fuel. (The brain is one of the body’s largest consumers of sugar; you couldn’t blink an eye without sugar.) If you are managing diabetes, by now you probably know what glucose level works best for you. You probably also know that exercise can help you manage your sugar level, but did you know that too much exercise can be bad for you?
Using up too much blood sugar at one time will make your glucose numbers drop too fast, possibly to dangerous levels. This is hypoglycemia, that sweating, light-headed feeling that is the opposite of hyperglycemia. We want to emphasize that when you exercise it’s just as important to monitor how much sugar you burn as it is to burn it. Hypoglycemia can kill you.
6. YOUNG, OLD, SKINNY, OBESE—NO MATTER, WORK THOSE MUSCLES
So how do you use up excess blood sugar with exercise? It’s simple: Work “skeletal” muscles—the large muscles in your thighs, back, abdomen and butt. These muscles will continue to burn sugar long after the exercise is over. Their cells need sugar to repair and maintain themselves, a process that continues for hours, even days, after those muscles have been exercised.
We’re talking about low-intensity exercise, too. It should not be strenuous enough to make you to hold your breath (such as lifting weights that are too heavy) or over-stress your feet (running or too many jumping jacks). Brisk walking or slow jogging is fine. Don’t like that? Then just go for a walk. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise. But if you view exercising as a chore, you’re setting yourself up for failure in the long term. Find an activity you enjoy, so you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
7. TIMING IS IMPORTANT
You should exercise at about the same time every day, to train those big sugar-burning muscles that it’s feeding time—like a dog that waits by its bowl for you to open the bag of chow.
8. WHEN NOT TO EXERCISE
Before any exercise, check your sugar. If you typically have high readings—say, above 240 mg/dl—check your urine for ketones with inexpensive over-the-counter test strips. If ketones show up in your urine, don’t exercise—this may drive your blood sugar level even higher. Ketones are a signal that there is a shortage of insulin in the blood; without insulin to help use up the sugar, the body has to break down stored fat for energy instead. You might think this is good (burn fat, lose weight), but for diabetics it’s bad.
9. THAT BOWL OF PASTA
From the minute the pasta is in your mouth, it begins to break down into simple sugars. Your body can only store a small amount of sugar at a time, in the form of glycogen that is held in muscles and the liver. What’s not stored as glycogen should be burned off as quickly as possible, before it turns to fat. Since your cells can only use up so much fuel in ordinary activity, your new exercise program kicks the cells into a higher gear, to burn off more.
10. BURN IT, DON’T STORE IT
Fat isn’t consumed for energy (unless you’re marooned on a desert island for weeks with just starvation rations) because your body will first use up whatever sugar is available. Here’s an example: If you eat fat and sugar together—a cheeseburger followed by ice cream—your body will burn the ice cream sugar first, because it’s so much easier to convert to energy than the cheeseburger fat. Furthermore, your cells get used to a particular form of fuel as energy; feed them sugar and they’ll want more and more of it.
11. YOU MUST BURN ALMOST EVERY BIT OF SUGAR BEFORE YOU GET TO THE FAT
You can train your muscles to crave more sugar too—and, like fat cells, muscle cells don’t care where the sugar comes from or how they get it. In fact, if you’re still in sugar-burning mode when you go to bed at night, your body will continue to hunt for sugar as you sleep. “Hungry” cells will quickly go through the glycogen in your blood, liver and muscle to get sugar. It’s not uncommon for a T1D to go into hypoglycemia while sleeping.
However, our bodies evolved to save stored sugar for emergencies that require a burst of energy—such as fighting or fleeing from a predator. Now we need to teach our muscles to burn sugar before it’s stored away, and we do this with regular exercise.
Remember: Muscles use sugar more easily than they do fat, and muscles that aren’t working need very little sugar—so get moving and get your blood flowing! Over time, less sugar stored means less fat stored, so you might lose a few pounds.
Treat exercise like your medication, as another tool to help manage your diabetes, and make it a regular part of your day–just an extra 5 minutes. You should consult your healthcare provider before you start any regular exercise program, even walking.
If you’re going to exercise only to lose weight, you’ll really have to suffer in the gym. In the long run, most of us can’t maintain those insane degrees of exercise. Burning through the sugar to get into the stored fat takes hours, days and weeks of exhausting and possibly dangerous effort at the gym.
12. ENOUGH WITH THE SCIENCE ALREADY
From about age 28 onward, our metabolism slows down gradually and our bodies can’t move sugar into our cells as efficiently. We know we need to exercise, but we hate the thought. ME is here to help! We‘ll show you activities that concentrate on large muscles—simple, easy routines that are both fun and beneficial. Do them daily, and they will train your muscles to become efficient sugar consumers.
These activities really shouldn’t even be called exercise, but rather, “things I do every day, just a bit more intensely.”
13. EXERCISE IS A GREAT ‘DRUG,’ NOT A WEIGHT-LOSS TOOL
Burn Sugar isn’t meant to give you a beach body. (Just look at our character, Me.) It was created to show you simple activities that are focused and effective, but easy to perform just about anywhere—at home, the office, outdoors or at school. Along with helping you burn excess sugar, the routines can help you form good daily habits, get healthier and maybe even lose a few pounds. Regular exercise also does more than just burn sugar and build fitness; it improves your circulation and keeps blood flowing to fingers and toes, which is extremely important for diabetics; and it helps keep your energy level high, your mind sharp and your emotions in balance.
Speaking of toes check your feet regularly, message often, better yet have someone message.
14. THE BOTTOM LINE
Focus on your sugar numbers, not the numbers on the scale. Remember, there are only two ways to get rid of excess sugar before it becomes stored fat or puts you into a hyperglycemic state: Pee it or burn it. ME is here to help with the second one.