Ask any runner, and they’ll tell you that if you want to be a runner, you might have to have to make some adjustments. Adjustments to schedule (those early morning runs require a pre-dawn wake up call), adjustments to diet (room for more nutrients but less room for junk food), and adjustments to overall lifestyle and outlook (which might be just the change you’re looking for). But for the runner with diabetes, adjustments may be necessary in meal planning, nutrient timing, medication, and even the run itself in order to maintain stable blood sugar levels before, during, and after activity.
If you’re overweight or obese and at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (or already suffer from the disease), one of the best things you can do for your health is to stay active and lose weight. The calorie-burning benefits of running are well worth the effort of putting one foot in front of the other; regular exercise can reduce cardiovascular risk factors, accelerate weight loss efforts, improve body composition, improve insulin sensitivity, and even improve blood glucose control. The general recommendation for all of us is to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.
If you’re a runner with Type 2, keep the following tips in mind to exercise safely and gain health benefits.
1. Before starting any exercise program, check with your doctor first. When you talk to him or her about your health and blood sugar control, be sure to mention you’re a runner. Not only will you likely get a pat on the back for your hard work, but you’re also sure to get some helpful advice as to whether your medication will need to change as you become more active, or if you need to adjust your fuel in a certain way to prevent high or low blood sugar (a Registered Dietitian (RD) can help with the latter).
2. Think twice before downing a lot of sports nutrition bars, drinks, and supplements. While the readily available carbs in these products can help to treat hypoglycemia, frequent consumption of extra calories while working out may negate the calorie burn and blood glucose-lowering effects of the run. If you’re running long or hard, go ahead and down a drink since extra calories from carbs are needed to sustain your effort (whether or not you have Type 2).
3. You may be wondering if it’s possible to incorporate exercise yet prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Absolutely. If you control your diabetes by diet and exercise alone, you’re not at increased risk of hypoglycemia when running. Participating in moderate exercise while taking certain oral antidiabetes medication(s) generally leads to a gradual reduction in blood sugar that’s unlikely to result in hypoglycemia. However, there are some meds that can lead to hypoglycemia, so check with your doctor to see if your medication is one of them.
4. What happens when insulin is introduced? Individuals treated with insulin are more likely to see blood sugar fluctuations and hypoglycemia and therefore need to adjust meals, insulin, and exercise timing accordingly. These adjustments are highly personal, so be sure to work closely with your doctor, Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), or RD to make the right adjustments.
5. Time it right. The beneficial effects of exercise on insulin sensitivity last for 24 to 72 hours (depending on intensity and duration of the run), and if you exercise relatively soon after a meal, the meal consumed may not cause blood sugar to rise as expected. So if you’re accustomed to a blood sugar spike in the hour or two following dinner, an evening run might be the way to keep blood sugar from spiking and–as an added benefit–you’re less likely to experience exercise-related low blood sugar.
6. Take it in strides. If you’ve got lofty weight loss goals in mind, remember that the weight didn’t appear overnight, and it’s not going to disappear overnight either. The American College of Sports Medicine, US, recommends overweight and obese individuals participate in at least 150-250 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week to prevent weight gain (and up to 250-300 minutes per week to boost weight loss). This means by taking steps to work out 30 to 45 minutes daily, runners will be sure to burn kilojoules every day, arrive at a goal weight in due time, keep insulin sensitivity levels elevated, and make strides to keep blood sugar levels a bit more stable.