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How Exercise Can Help Diabetes

By Jennifer Searl
Joslin Diabetes Center correspondent


For Jacqueline Sullivan, it's all about control. Jacqueline, age 55, was diagnosed with the most common form of diabetes, type 2 diabetes. She was experiencing burning in her feet, and an A1C test confirmed the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. After Jacqueline received the news, she made an appointment at Joslin Diabetes Center, a clinical partner of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and attended many of their educational offerings, including a workshop on exercise.

"They really push it [exercise] on you," she recalls.

And for good reason. Results from the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) showed that moderate diet changes and physical activity can delay and prevent type 2 diabetes. In addition, exercise can help those with type 2 diabetes manage their disease and avoid complications.

"Exercise is very helpful in people with diabetes because it helps reduce blood pressure, increase LDL or the 'good" cholesterol, decreases HDL or "the bad" cholesterol, decreases triglycerides - so it can prevent development of some of the cardiovascular disease," explains Kathy Shillue, a physical therapist in the Department of Rehabilitation Services at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "Exercise is especially important for people with diabetes because it improves insulin sensitivity and improves blood sugar control," she adds.

Michael See, an exercise physiologist at Joslin, suggests starting with moderate activity, such as brisk walking, at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

"The 30 minutes can be accumulated throughout the day - 10 minutes here, another 10 there. Some things like housecleaning can complement your other activity, but it doesn't take the place of your 30 minutes of dedicated exercise," he points out.

Anyone beginning an exercise program, or doing anything more than moderate activity, should first see their physician to get medical clearance. If you have complications, such as problems with your feet, or are taking medications, you may need to take special precautions.

Jacqueline takes part in the Easy Start program at Joslin, a medically supervised individualized exercise program. She uses machines such as the treadmill or elliptical for an hour two times a week.

"I'm really tired after, but I'm always happy I went," she says. I want to get to the bottom of things, and do everything I can to take control of my diabetes. They tell me I do a good job keeping it controlled."

Since Jacqueline began her exercise program, she has already noticed a decrease in her blood pressure and cholesterol. She plans to continue her activity through the winter, adding, "Now that I've gotten into it, it's actually something I look forward to!"

See concludes, "If all the benefits of exercise were in one pill, it would be the most effective pill known to man. There is nothing else you could do to get the considerable benefits that exercise offers."

Above content provided by the Joslin Diabetes Center in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted November 2012

Contact Information

Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
Department of Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Shapiro Building
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
617-667-9344
617-667-7060

Joslin Diabetes Center

Joslin Diabetes Center
A Clinical Partner of BIDMC
One Joslin Place
Boston, MA 02215