New research flows in almost daily that exercise is truly the best medicine - not only for a healthy heart, but for diabetes and other ills as well.
High-intensity workout to diabetes-proof your body
To ward off diabetes, the solution is simple, according to a new study: Move more. The more you exercise, the better your body handles blood sugar and insulin, scientists found
It may sound obvious, but up until now research had actually showed mixed results on the effect of cardio on blood sugar. This is the first study to show that the more exercise you do, the better your insulin sensitivity.
For this study, researchers had 55 healthy people who weren’t already exercising come into the lab and work out three to five times per week. After four months, the researchers found that people who had burned the most calories per week saw the greatest improvement in insulin sensitivity. What’s more, higher-intensity workouts — boosting the number of calories you burn per minute — also made a significant impact in slowing the path to diabetes.
Here’s why: As you continue to exercise at least once every few days, your
body learns to handle insulin more efficiently, which helps prevent type-2
Our advice? Work smarter, not longer. Add this interval routine to the end of every workout: Walk for 60 seconds, followed by a 30-second sprint, for four cycles. (You can also do the same slow-fast ratio on an exercise bike, rowing machine, or in the pool.) If you’re strapped for time, make this your workout for the day. (If diabetes runs in your family, you need to watch your weight, too. Make sure you know The Truth About Calories.)
That’s a mere six minutes of running, but you should feel completely cashed out by the end. Follow each interval routine with a 10-minute walk or jog. “That will both flush out lactic acid and extend your calorie burn as your heart rate tapers down,” says Tom Holland, M.S. Not tough enough for you? Work up to only 30 seconds or even 15 seconds of walking between your sprints, for up to 10 cycles.
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by Jessica Girdwain February 7, 2012, 03:29 pm EDT
When Food Network star Paula Deen—lover of butter, deep fryers, and cream—announced she had type 2 diabetes and was taking a drug to lower her blood-sugar levels, the critics circled. While we could rehash the criticisms, we won’t—you’ve heard them.
The news and the critical reaction, though, has made one thing clear: Most people—including many people who claim to be experts—have no idea exactly how to manage diabetes through diet.
Here are the basics: Controlling diabetes means managing insulin levels. The offender? Blood sugar-spiking carbohydrates. Most Americans eat a moderate- to a high-carb diet—anywhere from 40 percent carbs to upwards of 65 percent. That’s why limiting carbs—or choosing the right ones—is a strategy most doctors recommend for their patients.
Recent research lends some insight to these recommendations. A 2012 review published in Diabetes Care analyzed a range of diets—including low-glycemic index (GI) and low-carb diets—for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. The low-GI diets recommended foods that digest slowly—which, theoretically, should help keep blood-sugar levels steady. The low-carb diets limited carbohydrates from 20 grams per day—about the amount in one apple—up to 40 percent of calories.
The results were mixed. (That’s researcher-speak for “confusing.”) In six of 10 studies analyzed, patients on a low- or moderately-low-carb diet decreased their blood-sugar levels. When researchers looked at five low-GI studies, only two found that low-GI impacted glucose levels compared to higher-GI diets.
So what diet is the best for diabetes? We dug deeper into the research to find out.
Why Low-GI Diets Don’t Work
In terms of low-GI diets, attitudes toward them are pretty ho-hum. “Most diabetes experts don’t endorse the GI index because it doesn’t translate to the real world in any way,” says Scott Isaacs, M.D., an endocrinologist and obesity specialist in Atlanta, Georgia. Quite frankly, it’s a poor measure to begin with.
The GI is based on the blood-sugar response of eating a single food. But when’s the last time you ate only bananas for dinner? “You can’t add up the GI index of individual foods in a meal and make a prediction of how your blood sugar will respond,” says Isaacs. Foods work together to impact blood sugar, and the GI doesn’t take that into account.
The Best Diet for Type 2 Diabetes
Eric Westman, M.D., of Duke University, has a plan that’s so simple your 5-year-old niece could understand it: “The best way to control blood sugar is to avoid foods that raise it in the first place,” says Dr. Westman.
Dr. Westman has his patients follow extremely-low-carb diets that induce ketosis—forcing your body to burn fat for energy. In his past research, Westman discovered 95 percent of patients put on a very-low-carb program minimized or eliminated their diabetes medication, while only 62 percent in a low-GI group did the same. “With the very-low-carb plan, you get very quick results. You can reverse diabetes,” he says.
How Different Low-Carb Plans Compare
So how low should you go? Dr. Westman points to the growing body of evidence that shows very-low-carb plans are far superior in managing diabetes than moderate-low-carb diets.
While there isn’t research that pits the two against each other in the same study, there are experiments looking at each plan separately. Take Dr.Westman’s experiment that pitted low-GI against very-low-carb diets. When participants were instructed to limit their carb intake to less than 20 grams a day, they actually averaged about 49 grams per day—about 13 percent of their diet. After 24 weeks, subjects saw notable improvements in glucose measures across the board and lost an average of 23 pounds; in addition, triglycerides decreased and levels of “good” HDL cholesterol rose.
Compare that to a 2006 study published in Diabetic Medicine. Half of the subjects were placed on a low-carb diet and ate an average of 110 grams of carbs a day—about 34 percent of calories. A control group was instructed to eat “healthfully.” After 3 months, both groups experienced the same small improvements in glucose measures—there wasn’t a significant difference between the two plans. Average weight loss in the low-carb group was about 7 pounds. (People in this study started at similar weights and blood-sugar levels to Dr. Westman’s group.)
You may have some concerns about low-carb diets because most of them by default are high in fat. And doesn’t a high-fat diet raise your risk for heart disease—considered the most fatal complication of diabetes? No. That’s a myth, which is evident when you look at well-designed clinical research.
Part of it depends on what type of fat you’re eating, too. Processed meats, like hot dogs, likely do play a role in heart disease, as a 2010 meta-analysis confirms—but the same study found that red meat alone didn’t increase heart risk. In fact, a recent study found lean beef can actually lower cholesterol levels when it’s a part of a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
As for low-fat diets being better for heart health, that’s a myth, too. “A recent study showed that low-fat, high-carb diets didn’t reduce heart disease or diabetes,” Westman says.
How Low-Carb Do You Have to Go?
Restricting carbs can be very difficult if you’re used to piling on the pasta. But diabetes is a disease, and you have a choice: You can treat that disease with drugs or insulin—taking more and more of it throughout your life—or you can treat it by changing what you eat.
If your diabetes isn’t severe, though, you can have a little more leeway with carbs. In some diabetics the hormone insulin—which transports sugar from the blood into muscle cells—barely works at all. That’s why their blood sugar goes so high when they eat a high-carb meal, because they can’t shuttle the sugar out of the bloodstream. But other diabetics still have some insulin function—just not as much as a healthy person. This means your body is able to process some blood sugar.
“For a young, relatively healthy type 2 diabetic, they may be able to eat more carbs and focus on watching their calories,” notes Westman. “Three or four cups of vegetables a day may be okay for them.”
But even a moderately-low-carb plan may raise blood sugar too much for severe diabetics. What was that mantra you taught your niece? Oh yes: “Since carbohydrates raise blood glucose, the less carbs you eat, the less blood glucose rises,” Westman says. (Brilliant! She’s a gifted child.)
Though there’s no cut-and-dry number of carbs a diabetic should aim for in a day—it really depends on severity of the disease—a general range Dr. Westman recommends eating is about 20 grams to 100 grams of carbs a day.
Diet is only part of the equation when it comes to managing type 2 diabetes. Exercise, plus losing weight if you’re overweight, also keep blood-sugar levels in check. Want to get started?
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