Leotards and Leg Warmers: Aerobic Exercise and Diabetes
Fluorescent Spandex, leopard print dance leotards, knitted leg warmers, and disco beats. If that doesn’t paint a picture of aerobics in your mind, then who knows what will! Fortunately, you don’t need to pull on the brightly coloured sweat bands to engage in aerobic exercise and reap its many benefits (though no one’s stopping you if really want to). Curious about how aerobic activity can help you when living with type 1 diabetes? Keep reading and get ready to pull out the Spandex.
What Is Aerobic Exercise?
Aerobic activities are those exercises which use oxygen to meet the energy requirements of your muscles. You may know these exercises as “cardio” or “cardiorespiratory” workouts. Aerobic training typically involves the large muscle groups, such as your leg muscles, working in continuous motion for at least 10 minutes, getting up your heart and breathing rates.
Examples of aerobic exercises include:
- Mowing the lawn
- Brisk walking
- And of course, aerobics (with or without the leg warmers)
The great thing is that all of these can be done at whatever level of intensity you so desire. You can cycle on a flat road or up a hill. You can mow only your lawn, or you can mow your lawn and your neighbour’s!
6 Reasons To Pull Out The Sweat Bands
In addition to giving you a great excuse to wear fluorescent workout clothing, here are 6 benefits of aerobic training for people who live with type 1 diabetes:
1. Aids blood glucose management
Aerobic exercise is known to help with managing your blood glucose levels by improving your insulin sensitivity and decreasing insulin resistance.1,2 During an aerobic workout, your muscle cells become more receptive to the insulin in your body, promoting uptake of glucose by your muscles.
2. Improves cardiorespiratory health1,2
Considering that aerobic exercise is also known as cardiorespiratory activity, this one is a no-brainer! This means that both your heart function and lung function get a good workout.
3. Decreases mortality risk1,2
This goes for both overall mortality and also that specifically attributed to cardiovascular disease, such as heart failure and myocardial infarction. Since living with type 1 diabetes is linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and early mortality,3 anything that can help to reduce this risk is a good thing, even if it might involve Spandex.
4. Improves lipid (fat) levels1,2
Living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes is known to be a risk factor for elevated lipid levels, which can lead to complications including cardiovascular problems.4 Fortunately, both triglycerides and total cholesterol levels can be improved with regular aerobic exercise.
5. Delays the development of peripheral neuropathy2
Peripheral neuropathy is not an uncommon complication when living with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It can result in symptoms such as numb or tingly feet, or reduced sensation in other parts of the body. Although aerobic exercise may not prevent peripheral neuropathy entirely, it may slow it down.
6. May lower HbA1c2
More studies are still needed to focus on the effect of aerobic exercise on HbA1c levels in individuals living with type 1 diabetes. However, the limited research available does suggest there may be a benefit of aerobic activity on HbA1c measurements.
Are Your Sweat Bands Ready?
Before you suit up and mow the entire neighbourhood’s grass, consider these tips on staying safe while engaging in aerobic exercise.
- Monitor your blood glucose levels closely, before and after working out. Aerobic exercise can drop blood glucose levels significantly, especially for people living with type 1 diabetes2 so be prepared for a hypoglycaemic episode by following your usual hypo treatment (that has been recommended by your diabetes healthcare team).
- Work with your diabetes healthcare team to fit aerobic exercise safely into your fitness regime. They may have tips on the timing of your workout or how to manage your insulin dosage accordingly.
- Apart from mowing the lawn, many aerobic activities can be done socially. If it’s your style, find a partner to jog/cycle/play tennis with to keep things fun.
You’ll find that many daily activities can easily pass for an aerobic workout – think climbing a staircase or simply walking more briskly. With the multitude of proven health benefits from getting your heart rate up, what more reason do we need to break out the Spandex!
- Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Yardley JE, et al. Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2016;39(11):2065-2079.
- Sigal RJ, et al. Physical Activity and Diabetes. Can J Diabetes. 2018;42:S54-S63
- Lee, YB., Han, K., Kim, B. et al. Risk of early mortality and cardiovascular disease in type 1 diabetes: a comparison with type 2 diabetes, a nationwide study. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2019; 18:157
- MSD Manual Professional Version. Dyslipidemia. https://www.msdmanuals.com/. 2019. Available at: https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-au/professional/endocrine-and-metabolic-disorders/lipid-disorders/dyslipidemia. (Accessed January 2022).