Tripti has always been told by her yoga instructor to eat her last snack about an hour before class. Her friends who go to the gym, too, usually eat their previous meal about an hour before heading to their workout. Tripti has always assumed that exercises are to be done on an empty stomach. She has come home to spend the festive season with her parents and is shocked to see her diabetic father taking a walk immediately after his meals.
She is happy to witness the diligence with which he exercises. He tells her he is keen to keep his diabetes in check because he does not want a stroke or kidney disease that will inhibit his mobility and trouble his loved ones. Tripti is worried that he is damaging his health by exercising after his meal, but her father insists that his doctor has guided him on the best time to exercise for type 2 diabetes. He tells her it is different for him versus for her, a non-diabetic.
Tripti needs to know this: The best time to exercise for type 2 diabetes is when the blood glucose concentration is the highest, about 30 minutes after starting a meal. This is indeed in quite a contrast to yoga and other forms of exercise, where individuals are advised to exercise once their food is fully digested or on an empty stomach. However, it is essential to understand that a diabetic’s main goal from exercising is to regulate and control blood sugar levels. For someone without diabetes, the blood sugar spike after eating is managed automatically by the body. Therefore this is not a consideration for them.
To understand why the best time to exercise for type 2 diabetes control is post meals, it is essential to comprehend how blood glucose works for a person with and without diabetes.
How blood glucose works for diabetics and non-diabetics
When a non-diabetic eats a meal, the food is broken down, and blood glucose is released. The blood glucose level returns to an average level about two hours after eating.
Glucose isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Glucose is essential as it is used as energy. It is the fuel used for you to function, and it is necessary for the functioning of your brain.
After you eat, and when glucose is released, your pancreas releases insulin, which is responsible for breaking down the glucose into a form that your body can utilize as fuel. In a non-diabetic individual, the necessary blood glucose is absorbed by your body, and the excess is stored by your muscles and liver for use later. Your body can hold enough of this fuel for a whole day, typically.
In the case of a diabetic individual, when food is consumed, glucose is released – as is the case with someone who does not have diabetes – but after that, when insulin is removed, the cells use this insulin poorly. The blood glucose level remains concentrated, sometimes at dangerous levels.
How can a person with diabetes expend excess glucose?
After a person with diabetes has eaten their meal, blood glucose levels spike. At this point, if they could expand or utilize the blood glucose, the levels would return to normal. That’s precisely why the best time to exercise for type 2 diabetes is post-meals.
A diabetic individual should always exercise during the blood glucose spike rather than when their medication has brought levels back to normal. They might feel weak if they adopt the same rules that non-diabetics apply to gaps between meals and exercise because their bodies do not use insulin properly and do not store the glucose properly.
A non-diabetic’s body will release stored glucose an hour or so after consuming their meal to allow them to exercise without their blood sugar dropping dangerously. Low blood sugar is also not optimal as it could make the diabetic individual (or any individual) faint.
Hence, the best time to exercise for type 2 diabetes individuals is when the blood glucose level is high after a meal, and their body struggles to get rid of the excess glucose.
Other exercise-linked considerations for people with type 2 diabetes
We have established that the best time to exercise for type 2 diabetes is post meals, but what if you are in the office post-lunch. Many cannot exercise post-lunch because corporate culture might frown upon a break after lunch. What if you only have time to go for a walk in the morning? What then?
Medication can take care of the insulin spike after lunch, and most people can surely divert a little time to maintaining their health after dinner. If you have type 2 diabetes and prefer a morning walk or exercise in the morning, be sure to avoid doing so on an empty stomach unless advised so by your doctor.
A morning walk could indeed be good for you as the effect of the previous day’s medication might be wearing off (if you are on medication) or because some people with diabetes experience a spike of blood sugar in the mornings.
Checking your blood sugar before and after exercise is imperative irrespective of what you have decided as the best time to exercise for your type 2 diabetes.
Consult your doctor about your exercise timings and blood sugar readings, especially if you are new to exercise and immediately if you experience erratic blood sugar levels.