Think of Exercise as Diabetes “Medicine”

There are millions people in the U.S. living with diabetes, and if Dr. Sonja Maddox had her way, they would all be doing one thing to prevent onset of the disease: exercise.

Dr. Maddox, a family medicine physician at PacMed Renton, says people should think about exercise as “medicine.” Here’s how she explains this idea: “If you exercise and you don’t have diabetes, it can help prevent the disease. If you have diabetes and exercise regularly, it will lower your blood pressure, lower blood sugars and can even prevent the need for medication for a long period of time.”

Patients with diabetes can control their weight and blood sugar with diet and exercise. Although a diabetic patient may eventually need oral medication or insulin, exercise can help delay that need. Delaying the progress of the disease also means delaying the ravaging effects of diabetes on the heart and vascular system.

“The reason to work hard—to eat properly and exercise—is that you may have diabetes for just 30 years as opposed to 40 or 50 years. The longer you have the disease, the greater the likelihood you’ll develop retinopathy [eye damage], nephropathy [kidney damage]or heart disease,” says Dr. Maddox.

So what counts as exercise?

You don’t need to run a marathon to reap the benefits of exercise. You don’t even need to jog! Walking between 6,000 and 10,000 steps daily is an attainable goal for most people. Plus, it’s available to everyone. Use a step counter—or simply count your steps for 5 minutes and do some math. If you have mobility problems, water aerobics is a great alternative.

The recommended amount of physical activity is 150 minutes per week. That’s 30 minutes of exercise on five days, or 20 minutes every day. Your routine could include anything from high-intensity exercise to walking or gardening. Any activity that gets the heart rate elevated can be counted as physical activity. So, find something you enjoy and will do, and stick with it! A partner in exercise can also be motivating.

One last point in favor of exercise…

Dr. Maddox points out that medicine works only so well for so long. The more weight a person gains, the less well the medicine will work over time. Getting daily exercise is a health strategy for everyone, but especially for people with diabetes.