One of the common questions I receive from my clients when we first get started is, “How does exercise help regulate blood sugar levels?”
We all need exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle – we all know that. But this becomes more necessary when your blood sugar levels are atypical. Anyone with high blood sugar levels can potentially develop hyperglycemia which is often associated with diabetes. Low blood sugar levels cause hypoglycemia. The human body typically requires a balanced level of blood sugar.
The general advice that I give my clients is to get 30 minutes of exercise per day to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This does not usually need to be at any level of high intensity; a medium paced walk, a quick workout at home, or a short game of a given sport are all excellent examples. Completing at least 30 minutes of exercise per day will increase the heart rate to a point where the body seeks out sources of fuel not stored in the muscles being used.
Aerobic activity is exercise done at a relatively medium to high levels of intensity that can help lower blood sugar levels by using up glucose in the blood to fuel that exercise. Glucose stored in muscles is used very quickly as it is a rapid source of energy. Once this has been used the body must seek additional fuel sources to continue – glucose stored in the liver is injected in the blood stream to be absorbed my the muscles being used. By using glucose that is present in the blood the overall levels are lowered.
Understanding how insulin affects the body is key. Insulin is a hormone that allows muscles to take in glucose from the blood stream. Glucose is a quicker and powerful energy source and, when present, your body will naturally use it over other sources.
When your body is doing low intensity aerobic work there will be enough blood sugar to fuel that over a long period, most endurance sports work on this basis. However, high intensity exercising that focuses on power, strength or building muscle relies on going past the comfortable limit to a high intensity – this is known as anaerobic exercise and is the opposite of aerobic. This type of intensity will use up blood sugar levels very quickly so the body seeks fats as an alternative fuel source. When this occurs the body releases glucagon which causes the liver to convert stored glycogen (how the body stores glucose) into glucose for release into the bloodstream in large amounts. The effect is a rise in a blood sugar levels that can be taken in by muscles to fuel this high intensity exercise.
Blood sugar levels are kept in balance by insulin and glucagon being released at different times to lower or heighten as required. Both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia can bring about seizures in extreme cases as well as impairing the basic bodily functions. The body will avoid this wherever possible by the release of the hormones insulin and glucagon.
Exercising improves your overall fitness, cardiovascular fitness and over the long-term allows your body to use glucose more efficiently. As a result your blood sugar levels will be kept in check by your body in a natural manner. Aerobic can help lower blood sugar levels whilst anaerobic exercise can help increase it. It is the different types of exercise that triggers the release of the two different hormones that ultimately keeps the blood sugar levels where it needs to be.