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Exercise & Blood Sugar Control

How exercise affects our body’s ability to perform physically, mentally and metabolically

We are all aware that exercising or movement of some kind is beneficial for our health. The challenge is making time for it and even finding a form of movement that we enjoy and is getting us closer to our goals. While this is what I work with my clients on during coaching, I want to share details to how exercise benefits one’s help physically, mentally and metabolically. I believe information can be an enormous motivating factor for getting started when changing a behavior. Let’s begin!

Physically

Regardless of the type of activity you perform, doing something is better than nothing. Our bodies are designed to move. When humans were primarily hunter gatherers, we would often be moving, be it hunting animals or gathering in-season fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, our modern environment consists of long commutes to our jobs, where we sit some more, only to commute back home to plop on the couch.

We do a lot of sitting!

Prolonged sitting has been found to increase one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and this is independent of physical activity. So you can be physically active, say working out a few days out of the week, but if you spend the majority of your day sitting, you’re still at risk.

The Solution

Find opportunities to move throughout the day. This reduction in sitting time not only reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but burns more Calories. Taking walking breaks every hour and using a standing work station, if possible, is a great way to manipulate your work environment to improve your health. You want to be changing positions, as always standing is not be best either.

Use It, or Lose It

We have heard this saying and in the case of our bodies, specifically muscle, it is true. If you do not give your body a reason to maintain muscle, it will atrophy (waste away).

There is a condition called Sarcopenia, and this is the process of losing muscle mass. This is usually accompanied by decreased bone density and increased fat mass.

While nutrition can play a role in delaying or treating sarcopenia, exercise, especially resistance training, is incredibly important.

Resistance training includes lifting weights, which can also involve moving your own bodyweight, which leads to increases strength and muscle mass. Resistance training not only sends signals to your body to preserve and build lean muscle mass, but to increase bone density.

While I prefer using resistance training with my clients, I want to find a movement protocol that my clients enjoy. Be it hiking, walking, tennis, running, etc. They all have health benefits that not only improve our physical body composition, but even our mental health.

Mental Health

While maintaining muscle mass is very important, especially as we age, we also want to excel in other aspects in life. We all want to be as sharp, mentally, as possible. This not only allows us to perform well at work, school, but in everyday life.

Because diseases such as Alzheimer’s are seen exclusively in the older populations, we don’t give our risk of it much thought when we are young. While most start experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s around 60 years of age, the disease likely begins a decade or more before. According to the CDC, risk factors for Alzheimer’s include aging, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and a family history of dementia.

What Can We Control?

Thankfully, due to research on the exposome we should not accept a family history or our genetics as our destiny. It is estimated that around 10 to 20% of diseases are determined by our genes, while 80 to 90% is due to our environment. This is great news!

Another thing we can control is managing diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Another reason exercise or movement is important. The more we move, the lower our risk for diabetes and high blood pressure. Eliminate diabetes and high blood pressure, reduce your risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Experts in the field of Alzheimer’s are actually referring to Alzheimer’s as Type 3 DiabetesMore on metabolic health and exercise in the last section.

Last Cognitive Health Link

There is more information and mechanisms to explore that illustrate how exercise is important for mental health, but we will discuss only one more. One I find very interesting!

BDNF.

BDNF stands for Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. Why is BDNF important?

BDNF is a protein that plays an important role in the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory. BDNF is a known neurotrophin, which are a family of proteins that induce the survival, development and function of neurons (nerve/brain cells). Researchers have found that reduced BDNF expression in our brains is closely associated with the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The less BDNF expressed a possibly higher risk of developing AD.

What increases BDNF?

Exercise!! Exercise increases the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate which induces BDNF expression.

An interesting aside, the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate can also be increased through fasting and a ketogenic diet.

Next, outside of beta-hydroxybutyrate, let’s see how exercise improves our metabolic health.

Metabolic Health

When I say metabolic health, I am referring to having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, HDL, LDL, blood pressure, and waist circumference.

Unfortunately, NHANES data from 2009 to 2016 indicates that roughly 12% of Americans fall into the category of metabolically healthy, meaning they fall within “normal” ranges in the above mentioned markers. This means around 88% of Americans may have one or more metabolic health markers out of ideal ranges; therefore, they are not metabolically healthy. 

Muscle as a Reservoir

The beauty of having more muscle mass is it provides a place for glucose to go. Movement, more specifically, resistance training, not only builds muscle, but depletes glycogen (storage form of glucose found in muscles and liver). When muscle glycogen is depleted and you eat a carbohydrate rich meal those carbohydrates, which are broken down into glucose, will find their way into the muscle, instead of remaining in your blood stream (high blood sugar) or being stored as fat.

So, those who have issues with blood sugar regulation may be better off consuming carbohydrate rich meals after a workout.

I have my bias towards resistance training, but whether you choose aerobic (running, biking, swimming) or anaerobic (resistance training, sprinting, weight lifting) exercise, you are improving your metabolic health. Both improve mitochondrial densityinsulin sensitivity, reduced insulin needs in T1DMendothelial function, blood pressurelipid profiles and more. 

Just find something you enjoy and can see yourself continuing throughout your life.

What do to from here?

As I mentioned in the beginning, this is not new information, we all were aware that exercise is good for us.

However, maybe one or some of the benefits resonated with you today?

Which one(s)?

Maybe diseases like Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure or High Cholesterol run in your family?

Remember, you’re not destined to get these diseases just because of your genetics.

Or, maybe you have already noticed some memory issues or your doctor has told you your blood sugar is in the pre-diabetic/diabetic range?

It is not too late!

We can start making changes now and change your health trajectory!

Some ways I can help

Issue Practice
Unsure about where to start to exercise
Explore specific health goals and experiment with various forms of exercise
Have movement limitations (i.e., old injuries) and not sure how to navigate around them
Use exercises and/or movements that feel good and safe, that you enjoy, and still lead you closer to your health goals
Intimidated to lift weights or go to the gym
Start with simple exercises, either in a home setting, with minimal equipment, or at the gym
Have worked out for a long time, but not making or noticing progress (i.e., walk or run miles on the treadmill or elliptical multiple days a week)
Learn more effective ways to exercise, that not only save time, but provide a greater return on investment, and how to make continual progress
Cannot do the exercises or bodyweight movements other people are doing at the gym
Utilize modified exercises that work the same muscle groups, and allow you to build up to the other exercises