“Ah, who needs abs anyways?” you say as you dismiss the gym and inhale a box of donuts. Some people think the only benefits of working out are for a flatter belly and tighter tush. Yes, your body does take a few drastic changes with proper diet and exercise, but the benefits of both aren’t only limited to aesthetics. It turns out that diet and exercise are the answers to several chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancers, and of course, type 2 diabetes: a disease that takes sight, legs, and eventually, life.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes comes in two forms: type 1 and type 2. The main difference between the two is that type 2 isn’t hereditary. It’s also known as adult diabetes. Type 2 is the one we’ll mainly be discussing because it is the most common form of diabetes today.
Diabetes happens when there is too much glucose in the blood stream. See, glucose is a sugar and is a building block of many different foods, especially carbs. Glucose is one of the main forms of energy used in our body (remember photosynthesis). Insulin is a hormone that helps guide glucose into the cells to use as energy.
But in people with type 2 diabetes, there isn’t enough insulin to guide the glucose. Therefore, there are lots of glucose molecules in the blood stream and not enough getting used for the cell. This is also known as hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
Hyperglycemia affects blood vessels. Sugar and such gets sticky after a while, so the glucose sorta sticks to the blood vessels, making it harder for nutrients in the blood, such as oxygen, to pass to other cells. Nerve cells are often affected, and we all know what happens when nerves are damaged. When someone with diabetes steps on something sharp, he/she is not able to feel it due to the hyperglycemia. Therefore, the wound remains open to infection and eventually leads to amputation. Who would’ve known too much sugar can make you lose a limb, right?
But it doesn’t just stop there. Diabetes can also cause retinopathy. Hyperglycemia can damage the blood vessels within the retina of the eye by causing them to leak blood. The higher your blood sugar levels and the longer you’ve had diabetes, the worse diabetic retinopathy gets until the blood vessels become weaker and weaker and eventually, you lose your vision. In fact, diabetes increases your chances of becoming blind.
However, according to the American Optometric Association, patients that can better control their glucose levels can stall the effects of diabetic retinopathy.
So it seems like an excess of glucose in your blood has some pretty adverse effects. Which leads to this question:
How can you control blood glucose levels?
Some people inject insulin into their bodies. While this is a feasible and effective option, another way to treat high blood sugar is through exercise.
According to Diabetes.org, when you exercise, your body is more sensitive to insulin, and so it uses insulin efficiently after the exercise. This is because when you exercise, another form of glucose called glycogen is burned. It’s stored in your muscles, but when your muscles are contracting and moving, they’re using the glycogen to do so. Why is it so important to eat after you exercise? So you can restore all that energy you’ve lost. How do we get energy? From glucose. How do we get glucose into our cells? Insulin. Rigorous exercise kinda forces our body to better use the insulin so that the body can recover.
Several academic journals have unveiled the effect exercise has on insulin sensitivity. The International Journal of Sports Medicine has indicated that physical activity can increase insulin sensitivity for more than 16 hours. In fact, physical activity can help lower your overall blood glucose for up to an entire day, and the longer you work out, the better your blood glucose levels.
What about food?
Obviously, you’d want to stay away from carb-y and sugary foods to lower your glucose levels. But don’t you need the carbs to do the exercise in the first place?
Diabetes.org recommends that you eat meals full of fruit, whole grains, non-starchy vegetables and healthy fats. Non-starchy vegetables include: baby corn, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, Brussel sprouts, turnips, and radishes. Diabetes.org offers a full list of common non-starchy vegetables (although they add tomato as a vegetable which is kinda weird).
And it should be of no surprise that a healthy plant-based diet reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes in general. A Harvard study used 200,000 health professionals to fill out a questionnaire regarding lifestyle, diet habits and diseases they had. The researchers found that the participants that ate from a plant-based diet had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Diets comprised of animal foods or unhealthy yet plant-based foods had been linked to a 16% increase in risk. This diet contains starchy and sugary foods including refined grains and sugary beverages. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also conducted a study clarifying that a vegetarian diet is the best way to offset diabetes.
What does this mean?
This means that one of the most popular diseases, one of the top ten leading causes of death in America can be mitigated. Sure with medicine, but also, and most importantly, with diet and exercise.
This means that there is more to a healthy body than a firm butt, a flat belly and toned legs. Health is far more than skin deep. Once you live an unhealthy lifestyle, you’re living in an unhealthy body that is more prone to preventable diseases.
So many people are diagnosed with diabetes yearly for a multitude of reasons. Maybe they don’t know any better, maybe they can’t afford any better. But if you’re blessed to have the resources and the knowledge, don’t take advantage of it. Wake up and get up. Don’t victimize yourself out of laziness or lack of willpower. It’s time to take back your health.