How to Promote Glucose Metabolism Through Exercise

If you have higher than average blood glucose levels, you’ve probably been told that it’s time to make a few lifestyle changes. And while eating a healthy and balanced diet  is an absolute must, it’s important to remember that exercise has just as big a role to play in keeping your blood glucose under control.

We asked exercise physiologist Mark Simpson for the lowdown on how physical activity helps manage your glucose metabolism – and why just a few simple lifestyle improvements can make a big difference.

Blood glucose and exercise – the science bit

“There are various terms thrown around which relate to blood glucose and it can be a little overwhelming. It’s easier to wrap your head around what’s happening in your body if you take the time to learn what it all actually means,” Mark explains.

“Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to manage blood glucose levels – one of its jobs is to remove the glucose from your bloodstream and store it safely away. People with low insulin sensitivity – sometimes called insulin resistance – need higher and higher amounts of insulin to keep their blood glucose stable, as the body has become increasingly resistant to the effects of insulin.”

Eventually, the body can’t produce enough insulin and that’s when our blood glucose levels start to increase. Simpson uses the analogy of a lock and key to explain the process:  “If glucose is trying to leave the building, then insulin is the key which unlocks the door. In people with insulin resistance, the hinge is rusty and extra help is needed to get that door unlocked. This is where exercise comes in. As little as ten minutes of exercise is enough to excite that insulin receptor and make it more sensitive – in other words, to grease the door hinge and allow the glucose to escape. This helps to bring metabolise glucose and bring it back into a more normal range.”

While it’s not clear exactly why the body becomes resistant to insulin, studies have shown an association between people with central obesity (those who carry a lot of weight around the middle) and insulin resistance,[1] indicating that exercising to lose weight is also an important factor in controlling blood glucose levels.

“Exercise increases lean muscle mass and decreases waist girth,” says Simpson, “which is particularly important once you reach the age of 30, when we lose half a kilo to a kilo of muscle mass per year. The more muscle you have, the easier it is for your body to metabolise glucose.”

Five ways to kick-start your new exercise routine

  1. Choose frequency over effort level

    When we’re physically active, the impact it has on our insulin sensitivity is temporary, lasting somewhere between 24 and 72 hours (the less fit you are, the briefer the impact).  That’s why it’s not how hard you exercise, but how often that’s the key.  Be sure to fit in some kind of physical activity each day. A ten minute walk at an effort level of around six or seven out of ten is a good place to start if you’re a beginner.

  2. Make it part of your routine

    This is about long term change, not a dramatic transformation that can’t be sustained. Choose an activity which is easy to fit into your daily routine and aim to do it at around the same time each day. It’ll soon be as much a part of your day as brushing your teeth or getting dressed.

  3. Give yourself a helping hand

    Finding the energy to exercise can be tough – especially if your fitness levels aren’t quite where they need to be. If fatigue is an issue, top up your energy levels with a dedicated supplement formulated to promote stamina. But before doing so, speak with your healthcare professional about the key nutrients which you might be lacking.

  4. Set realistic goals

    Set yourself goals that are achievable and celebrating them is important and will help you to stay motivated. Start with a ten minute walk, then once you’ve nailed that, increase it to 15 minutes.

  5. Do something you enjoy

    The best way to stick to your exercise regimen is to choose something that doesn’t feel like a chore. Take a walk with a friend, take up a gentle team sport, or throw a ball around with the kids at the park.

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