The increasing prevalence of diabetes is a major concern for health professionals and politicians alike. And it should be. It has the potential to completely overwhelm an already stretched health system and result in huge costs to society.
It's amazing that countries like America and Australia are facing such a health disaster when, for most people, diabetes is preventable. A healthy diet and regular exercise are all most people need to do to avoid suffering the debilitating effects of diabetes.
Exercise is a critical element to fight diabetes.
How exercise protects against diabetes
Human muscles get their energy by extracting sugar and fat from their blood supply. When muscles are at rest, they need insulin for sugar to pass into their cells. However, when muscles contract (during exercise), sugar passes into their cells without requiring insulin.
Contracting muscles remove sugar rapidly from the bloodstream, without needing insulin, during and for up to one hour after exercise. The effect tapers off to zero at about 17 hours (American Journal of Clinical Nurtrition, July 2008). You are protected maximally from high rises in blood sugar and fat during and immediately after exercise.
Therefore, the more times you spend contracting muscles (exercising), the longer you will be protected from the cell damage that leads to cancers, heart attacks, strokes, and other consequences that shorten your life or impair its quality.
This is why I recommend you exercise every day. So you get the benefit of this easy passage of sugar into the muscle cells each day. It doesn't have to be the same muscles, and in fact it is probably better if it isn't, so do a variety of different exercise during a week and not the same thing on consecutive days.
Why extra fat increases your risk of diabetes
High levels of body fat can also interfere with insulin getting glucose into the cells.
Extra fat blocks insulin receptors so insulin can't do its job of driving sugar into cells and blood sugar rises to high levels. This causes sugar to stick to the surface of cell membranes. Once stuck to cell membranes, sugar can never get off and is eventually converted to sorbitol which destroys the cell to cause all the side effects of diabetes.
The extra sugar outside cells is converted to fat, which blocks insulin receptors even more and prevents insulin from doing its job, leading to more weight gain and eventually to diabetes. Thirty-five percent of North Americans, and similar numbers of Australians, are expected become diabetic because they exercise too little and eat too much.
Don't be one of them. Get out there, do some exercise every day (and don't overeat!).
Article Author: David Beard, Calico Exercise Physiologist and Healthy Ageing expert