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​Why exercise is essential for diabetes management

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Why exercise is essential for diabetes management

By Contributor

Alongside diet and weight control, exercise is an essential component in the management of diabetes.

A reason to exercise

According to Dr Jeanne Grace, director of health promotion at the Biokinetics Association of South Africa (BASA), a diagnosis of diabetes is no reason to stop exercising – and every reason to start.

Benefits of daily exercise for diabetics

Improved glucose control and improved insulin sensitivity

A possible reduction in medication required

A decrease in body fat and the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases

How to find the best exercise programme

The BASA urges the three-and-a-half million South Africans - about six percent of the population - who have been diagnosed with diabetes to consult a biokinetics for advice on the most appropriate exercise programme.

“A diagnosis of diabetes is also no reason for an elite athlete to give up, regardless of their sport. A person who has been diagnosed with diabetes can do anything their non-diabetic peers can do, provided they are able to manage their condition effectively. A biokinetics can play a key role in this,” Dr Grace says.

The primary function of a biokinetics (who is registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) as an allied medical professional alongside, among others, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and dietitians) is health promotion and the improvement of physical functioning and health care, through scientifically-based physical activity or exercise programme prescription.

“The exercise programme prescribed by the biokinetics has to be combined with an appropriate individualised eating programme, which should be formulated by a registered dietitian. Should you have any of the side-effects of diabetes, they will be taken into account by the biokinetics and dietitian when formulating appropriate exercise and eating programmes,” Dr Grace explains.

Why consult a biokinetics prior to exercising?

The most serious problem for people with diabetes mellitus who exercise is hypoglycaemia (also called low blood glucose or low blood sugar). This mainly affects those taking insulin or oral hypoglycemic medications that increase insulin secretion.

Dr Grace, therefore, recommends that people with diabetes consult a biokinetics prior to exercising because biokinetics is trained with regard to:

  • Blood glucose monitoring before and for several hours following exercise, especially when beginning or modifying the exercise programme
  • The timing of exercise in individuals taking insulin or hypoglycemic medications
  • Developing effective strategies to prevent hypoglycaemia both during and after exercise in people who use insulin. This could include changing insulin timing, reducing insulin dose, and/or increasing carbohydrate consumption
  • Individuals with retinopathy who are at risk for retinal detachment associated with vigorous intensity exercise.

What if you’re not diabetic?

With a further five million South Africans estimated to be pre-diabetic, BASA also advises everyone to have their glucose levels tested.

“The longer diabetes goes undiagnosed and unmanaged, the more damage it can cause to your cardiovascular system, nerves, kidneys, eyes and feet. It can also increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and affect your hearing and even your skin,” says Dr Grace.

“Different tests can be conducted to determine whether you have diabetes. Biokineticists are trained to conduct random and fasting glucose tests. Depending on your test result you will be referred for more specialised tests if necessary.”

Dr Grace emphasises that dealing with diabetes effectively requires a multidisciplinary approach. She advises anyone with raised glucose levels to be checked by a GP, physician or health nurse for other diabetes-related risk factors.

“Once you know what your glucose level is and whether you have any of the diabetes-related risk factors, the biokinetics will prescribe an exercise or movement programme that is designed to reduce your glucose level and fat mass, while taking into account your state of health."