Diabetes is a disease where the body is unable to regulate its blood sugar (glucose) levels due to problems with insulin control. Insulin the hormone that causes the cells and tissues of your body to absorb sugar from the blood stream and use it up or store it. Diabetes can be classified into three main categories depending on where the problem in glucose regulation lies. Type 1 diabetes or juvenile diabetes is the scenario where your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. It can have numerous causes but results when specific cells in your pancreas are damaged. Gestational diabetes is a rise in blood sugar levels during pregnancy and can cause diabetes after pregnancy for the mother as well as changes in the development and growth of the baby. As such, it is important to get it under control. The final one is type 2 diabetes which is caused when your body no longer responds to insulin. In type 2 diabetes, your body sees insulin too often and its stops listening to it (the same way you may stop listening to your children when they are talking). Type 2 diabetes is becoming a huge problem in our society with 29.1 million Americans being diagnosed in 2012. The number is projected to keep climbing as people continue to be overweight. One of the largest risk factors for type 2 diabetes is excessive weight especially if that weight is carried around your belly. Your body mass index (BMI) is a measure of your weight to height ratio and an increasing BMI is associated with an increasing risk for diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can be reversed by living a healthy lifestyle with a proper diet and frequent exercise. People who are risk of developing type 2 diabetes are often told to start eating healthier and start exercising in order to get their weight under control. Many people find it difficult to exercise and diet and so often pick one or the other to reach their desired weight. This begs the question, does it matter how I lose the weight as long as I lose it? Well, researchers from St. Louis have found the answer to this question.
In the very elegant study, participants who were between the ages of 45 and 65 years old were split into three groups and were asked to lose weight by either dieting, exercising, or performing both. Throughout the study, the researchers measured the participant’s weight, blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity, and other hormones important in determining diabetes risk. All the people participating in the study did not have diabetes but were at risk for developing the disease. At the end of the study, the researchers compared all the measured variables to see if exercise and diet in combination better protected the participants against the development of diabetes.
It was found that regardless of the method of weight loss, the participants ended up losing the same amount of weight (about 6%). The interesting part however, was that the participants who had exercised and dieted were 2 times more sensitive to insulin than the people who lost their weight by just dieting or exercising. This may seem like an obvious result but it is a very important one. The problem with just losing weight but not changing insulin sensitivity is that you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes again if you have a continued spike in blood glucose. Our blood glucose spikes whenever we eat a meal but usually, with insulin, our body is able to store that sugar away and bring the level back down to a baseline amount. If you don’t regain your insulin sensitivity then this spike in blood sugar can’t be controlled, even if you have a healthy weight.
Diabetes is associated with a significantly shorter life expectancy primarily due to heightened risks for stroke, heart disease, dementia, and hospitalizations. So eat healthier and begin to exercise. Find an activity you enjoy doing so exercise doesn’t become a chore. This could be anything from cycling to gardening, anything but sitting on a couch reaching for the chips (that doesn’t count as exercise).