Diabetes and exercise: Here’s why the twain shall never meet

  • PTI, Washington
  • Updated: Oct 16, 2015 16:57 IST
One reason why diabetic women find it difficult to exercise is because type 2 diabetes patients have more difficulty converting dietary nutrients to fuel for exercising muscles than those without diabetes. (Shutterstock)

If you are diabetic and could never get yourself to start exercising, there’s a reason why you procrastinate. A new study suggests that women with type 2 diabetes find it more difficult to exercise, which could make them sedentary and cause their health to worsen. “We know regular physical activity prevents premature disability and mortality from Type 2 diabetes mellitus and is a critical part of disease management,” said Amy Huebschmann, at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “However, many people with the disease are generally sedentary for reasons that are not fully established,” Huebschmann said.

The study looked at 54 overweight women between 50 and 75 years old who reported doing less than one hour of physical activity per week. Approximately half of them had type 2 diabetes while the others did not. Women were studied because the effects of type 2 diabetes on exercise and cardiovascular function are typically worse among females than males.

All of the women exercised on a stationary bicycle at a low to moderate intensity similar to the work needed to walk one mile in 25 minutes. During the exercise, women reported how difficult it felt while also having blood drawn to test for lactate levels.

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Those levels are an important measure of effort because they increase in proportion to the level of exertion. The researchers found significantly higher lactate levels during low to moderate intensity exercise in people with type 2 diabetes than their counterparts without the disease.

They also tended to score higher on the Rating of Perceived Exertion that measures how difficult people rate the exercise. “Exercise effort is an important barrier to physical activity because it is modifiable,” the study said, “and the perception of more intense effort during exercise has been associated with lower levels of usual physical activity.”

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According to Huebschmann, these findings suggest that common household activities like climbing stairs or carrying groceries would feel more difficult to people with type 2 diabetes than to their counterparts without diabetes. According to researchers, one potential reason why the exercise feels more difficult is because people with type 2 diabetes have more difficulties converting dietary nutrients to fuel for exercising muscles than those without diabetes.

Another possible reason is the abnormal way the body responds to exercise in those with type 2 diabetes, including problems redirecting blood flow towards the muscles used during exercise. “Problems with metabolism and the body’s response to exercise may be an important driver behind both lower fitness levels and greater effort during exercise for people with diabetes,” Huebschmann said. The study was published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care.

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