Want to Lower Blood Sugar? Bump Up the ExerciseLast updated: May 22, 2016
Last year, Lillian Philburn of West Orange retired from her job working in insurance claims and she decided that it was time to ensure her own health by getting her Type 2 diabetes under control. Freed from the grind of a demanding office job, she finally had time to catch up on getting into shape. She started eating healthier food and hitting the gym regularly. With the help of a personal trainer and the support of Summit Medical Group’s Michelle Cajulis, MD, Philburn is now 30 pounds lighter.
“Dr. Cajulis and I are talking about going off my diabetes medication after I lose a bit more weight,” Philburn said. “She has seen my blood sugar levels drop from 75 to 68 since last August, which is really a significant decrease.”
Philburn now works out four times a week for an hour, completing three circuits that combine aerobic activity with resistance training on machines.
“I had to build up my stamina on the treadmill and the elliptical. Once I was exercising regularly, I lost an average of a pound a week—and whenever I stop losing weight, I increase the exercise,” she said.
When she first met Dr. Cajulis last summer for a routine checkup, Philburn was feeling tired. A test revealed that her blood sugar levels had increased significantly since they’d last been measured. She’d had a history of high blood sugar but had formerly taken a medication that made her feel bad, so she’d stopped. Dr. Cajulis put her on new medication and suggested lifestyle changes, including exercise.
According to Ms. Philburn, she started seeing results almost immediately after she began working out regularly.
“The weight started coming off,” she said. “And the endorphins are wonderful. I have so much more energy. I’m at the gym, taking walks outside and playing golf.”
“Lillian has made great strides,” said Michelle Cajulis, MD, Ms. Philburn’s primary care doctor. “She has lowered her blood sugar levels with exercise and healthy eating. She’s really a role model for people who want to address diabetes with lifestyle intervention.”
Ms. Philburn’s anecdotal evidence about the relationship between circuit training and lower blood sugar levels is backed up by hard science.
One study published in the medical journal The Annals of Internal Medicine, for example, reported that in a clinical trial, patients with Type 2 diabetes who “combined aerobic exercise and resistance training program three times weekly” showed a more marked decrease in blood sugar levels than “patients who followed a program of either exercise type alone.” 1
On its website, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) gives the following recommendations about exercise:
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise at least five days a week.
- Spread out your activity so you are not going more than two days in a row without exercising.
- Make sure to do some strength training. This makes body more sensitive to insulin and can lower blood glucose.
- Remember that the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even when your body is at rest.2
“The endorphins I get from exercise are wonderful and give me much more energy,” Philburn said. “I had spent a lot of time sitting at my job, and I’m down to 181 from 212 since last August when I first met Dr. Cajulis. I hope to lose 20 more pounds.”
In addition to diabetes, Philburn has arthritis in her knees and ankles, and had been struggling with high cholesterol. Her weight loss also improved those conditions. Now that she has lightened the load on weight-bearing joints, her arthritis is better—and getting into shape has improved her heart health by lowering her “bad” cholesterol levels.
“I did exercise that was comfortable for me to do with arthritis. Because it was gentle on my joints, I was able to stick to it and lose weight, so I have much less pain in my legs and ankles,” she said.
Dr. Cajulis has told her that as long as she continues to keep her weight down, she won’t have to take medication in the future.
“I used to be the person who drove everywhere,” Philburn said. “I was recently down on Long Beach Island with my sisters, and we were going out to dinner. I suggested that we walk back and forth to the restaurant, about a mile each way, and they were amazed.”
1. Sigal, Ronald J., MD. "Effects of Aerobic Training, Resistance Training, or Both on Glycemic Control in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Trial."Annals of Internal Medicine. American College of Physicians, 09 Dec. 2008. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
2. American, Diabetes Association. "What We Recommend." American Diabetes Association. American Diabetes Association, 08 Aug. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.