13 Facts You Need To Know About Exercise, Sugar and Insulin
BURN SUGAR, FORGET FAT—FOR NOW
Everyone knows the body converts carbs to sugar (glucose), but diabetics know all too well that excess carbs produce excess glucose in the blood and can lead to hyperglycemia. Failing to treat hyperglycemia, ketoacidosis (diabetic coma) could occur, even death. Ketoacidosis develops when your body doesn’t have enough insulin or your body is not effectively using insulin. For many, ketoacidosis like symptoms were the first and only signs of their diabetes.
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. For Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), it may occur because your body may have enough insulin, but it is not as effective as it should be.
INSULIN HELPS BODY TISSUE CELLS ABSORB BLOOD SUGAR
Diabetics know that diet and exercise can help control high levels of sugar in the blood. Obviously, we can limit our sugar intake through diet, but exercise is extremely effective, muscles burn blood sugar and does so on a cellular level, no not cell-phone level. The more active we are, our cells become more sensitive to insulin, whether it’s generated by the pancreas or injected, and cells can absorb more glucose. In fact, exercise can drastically reduce how much insulin we need, or reduce the need for injecting insulin altogether.
Then there are oral medications that decrease the production of glucose by the liver and make muscle tissue more sensitive to insulin, and new drugs that work by blocking the re-absorption of glucose by the kidneys, increasing sugar output when urinating. And promising advances to deliver insulin orally but human trials are years away.
HERE’S HOW INSULIN WORKS
After we eat sugar is produced. Our insulin rings the cell’s doorbell, announcing a new sugar delivery. Muscles pull in sugar from your blood as fuel. But inactive muscles don’t need excess fuel—if the carb sugar in a just eaten dish of pasta isn’t burned by activity—it will be stored as fat. (Insulin also serves as our fat-storing hormone.) That’s when our kidneys kick in; they store sugar to help fuel the future needs of muscles. Kidneys will hold more sugar than you need, if not immediately burned, it’s store as fat.
OBESITY—TOO MUCH STORED FAT
Obesity can be serious to a diabetic. By itself, obesity doesn’t cause T2D, but excess fat can block insulin from being absorbed by cells, and it’s this ‘insulin resistance’ that leads to T2D. Fat around the belly is a special problem. Belly fat wraps around your internal organs and can interfere with their functions. This is especially critical for your liver, which processes insulin, which regulates blood sugar. If fat seeps into your liver, it may tell your body to stop processing insulin, leading to potentially severe glucose imbalances. Lastly, fat blocking forces you to pump more and more insulin into your body; it becomes a vicious cycle. More fat, more insulin. By the way, for obvious economic reasons, drug companies love when you manage your sugar using this approach.
EXERCISE IS GOOD, BUT WHEN NOT TO EXERCISE
Before any exercise check you sugar, if you typically have high readings, say, above 240 mg/dl check your urine for ketones. There are inexpensive OTC test strips available, and very handy to keep around. 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 that’s good, burn fat, lose weight, etc. But for diabetics it’s not good.
It is not uncommon for those with high readings to exercise to lower their number. High sugar? Why not exercise to lower the number. For many it’s a workable strategy. An hour on a treadmill or stationary bike can have a dramatic lowering effect, maybe allow you to pass on a fast-acting insulin which is always good.
SUGAR GOOD, TOO MUCH, 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, and you couldn’t blink an eye without sugar.) If you are managing your diabetes by now you probably know what glucose level works best for you. What’s too high, what’s too low. You also know that exercise is good, but did you know that too much of it is bad?
Using up too much blood sugar at one time will make your glucose numbers drop fast, possibly to dangerous levels. This is hypoglycemia, that sweating, light headed feeling is the opposite of hyperglycemia, and it’s why this site is named Hypo.com. We want to emphasize that when you exercise it’s far more important to monitor how much sugar you burn than it is just to burn it. Hypoglycemia can kill you.
YOUNG, OLD, SKINNY, OBESE—NO MATTER, WORK THOSE MUSCLES
So how do you use up excess sugar with exercise? It’s simple: Work “skeleton” 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 (lifting weights that are too heavy) or over-stress your feet (running or too many jumping jacks). Brisk walking is fine, something like a slow jog. Don’t like that? Then just go for a walk. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise. Remember, if you view exercising as a chore, you’re setting yourself up for failure in the long term. Find something you enjoy, so you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Equally important is to 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. Regular exercise does more than just burn sugar; it improves your circulation which is extremely important for diabetics, keeps blood flowing to fingers and toes, and keeps your energy level high, your mental sharpness and even your emotional state and happiness.
Naturally, you should consult your health provider before you start any regular exercise program, even walking.
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’s too late. Since your cells can only use up so much fuel in ordinary activity, your new exercise program kicks the cells into gear to burn off more.
BURN IT, DON’T STORE IT
Fat isn’t consumed for energy (unless you get marooned on a desert island with starvation rations for weeks) 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 that to energy than the cheeseburger fat. Furthermore, your cells get used to burning a particular form of fuel as energy, sugar. Feed them sugar and they’ll want more and more of it.
YOU MUST BURN ALMOST EVERY BIT OF SUGAR BEFORE FAT-BURNING KICKS IN
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 hypo while sleeping.
However, our bodies evolved to save stored sugar for emergencies, like a burst of energy needed to fight or flee from a predator, like a lion that’s determined to make you their dinner. So now we need to teach our muscles to burn sugar before it’s stored away. Over time, less sugar stored means less stored fat, so you might also lose a few pounds. So remember: Muscles use sugar better than they do fat. Muscles that aren’t working need very little sugar, so get moving and your blood flowing!
Treat exercise like your drug management, part of your day– just 5 minutes and it’s another tool to help manage your diabetes.
ENOUGH WITH THE SCIENCE ALREADY
Beginning in our 20s, our metabolism slows down as we age and our bodies aren’t able to move sugar into our cells as efficiently, and we know we need to exercise, but we hate the thought. Hypo.com is here to help! We demonstrate activities—exercises that concentrate on large muscles, simple routines if done daily will slowly train those muscles—both fun and beneficial, and don’t have to be overdone.
These activities really shouldn’t even be called exercise, but rather, “things I do every day, just with a bit more intensely.”
EXERCISE IS A GREAT ‘DRUG,’ NOT A WEIGHT-LOSS TOOL
Hypo.com 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. Home, Office, Outdoors or School. In addition to helping you burn excess sugar, the routines can help form good daily habits, get a bit healthier and maybe lose a few pounds.
The bottom line: Focus on your health not your weight, particularly instructive for kids and young adults, think health and healthy behaviors, rather than the number on the scale.
By the way: 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. Sure, exercise causes energy loss, sugar fuel, but not necessarily fat loss. As said, burning through the sugar to get into fat burning will take hours, days and weeks at the gym of exhausting and possibly dangerous effort.
The fact remains, 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.