All types of physical activity can have a powerful impact on decreasing glucose values, and it does this in a variety of different ways. During exercise, the body experiences temporary improved insulin sensitivity, and this enhanced insulin sensitivity can potentially last for up to 24-48 hours depending on how intense the workout was.
Exercise also helps us to clear out our glycogen stores (glucose storage space) from our liver and muscle. When these stores are cleared out, our bodies are better primed to utilize incoming glucose from our food. One way to visualize this is to think of muscle tissue as having lots of cubby holes where we store our glucose to be used for energy later on. When we eat carbs, we fill up those cubby holes with glucose. When we’re active, we use the glucose from those cubby holes for energy. So if we’re not finding a way to ‘use up’ that extra glucose and clear out those cubby holes, the next time we eat a meal with carbs, our body isn’t going to have anywhere to put that extra glucose, meaning it will have to hang out in our bloodstream for longer (i.e. leading to higher blood sugar values).
Since we know muscle can serve as a storage place for extra glucose, the more muscle we build (through things like strength training and other weight-bearing exercises), the more storage space we’ll have and the easier it becomes to regulate blood sugar.
Last but not least, exercise can also increase muscle glucose transporters, which ultimately makes it easier to move glucose out of our bloodstream and into the body’s cells.
Whether you enjoy walking, hiking, dancing, gardening, kayaking, or something else entirely, all types of physical activity that get your body moving are going to be beneficial for your blood sugar!
In addition to more ‘structured’ exercise, it’s important to find ways to move more through the day. There’s some research to suggest that if you spend long periods of time sitting down, this increases your risk of having poor blood sugar control, regardless of how much moderate to vigorous exercise you do. So clearly both structured exercise and daily movement are important factors to think about when living well with diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Blood Sugar Spike During Exercise?
Have you ever noticed that at times your blood sugar actually trends up when you’re working out? What’s that about? If exercise is supposed to be helpful for glucose values, why would your glucose increase during a workout?
This can be totally normal! During certain types of physical activity, your body may need to release more glucose from storage to provide fuel for your activity. The spikes we see from exercise aren’t necessarily as concerning as the spikes we see from food because they are primarily non-insulin mediated. That means that we don’t need insulin to manage these glucose spikes in the same way we do for food and that this ultimately isn’t going to contribute to further insulin resistance down the road.
The issue with exercise spikes comes when we start getting into the 160-180 mg/dL territory or higher. That’s when we could potentially start to see inflammation and damage to the blood vessels themselves. If you start to experience that, you may need to adjust your workout fueling or the intensity of your exercise to resolve this. Reach out to your NutriSense nutritionist for personalized workout nutrition recommendations.
Next: Structured Exercise