If you’re a diabetic stiff and sore joints may seem like a normal part of your life. You’ve noticed that it’s becoming more and more difficult to do everyday activities like tying your shoes. And you avoid exercise not only because of the stiffness in your joints but also because your balance is off. (Secretly, you’re afraid you could fall and injure yourself.) It makes you feel older than you really are. Even though you follow doctor’s orders when it comes to your medication, the thought of going to the gym for a hard workout is unimaginable. You feel awkward and self-conscious because you’re so stiff. The stiffness makes you clumsy and unable to keep up in a group exercise class. But deep down, you know that exercise would help you better manage your blood sugars and also keep your blood pressure in check. Still, it’s hard to get started when you hurt all over. It’s not your fault that exercise has been so challenging for you. One reason is collagen glycation (a condition that plagues diabetics in particular because of high blood sugar levels..)
Excess Sugar+Protein= Stiff Joints
Glycation is a process that occurs when glucose attaches to protein molecules and forms new compounds called AGEs (advanced glycation end products.) When AGEs react with tendons and cartilage, it causes collagen molecules in these structures to twist and form abnormal cross-linkages. No one is immune from collagen glycation because it is a normal process that comes with aging. However, because diabetics have high blood sugar levels, excessive glucose in the bloodstream speeds up the glycation process. The result is that diabetics often suffer from stiff and sore joints. So it’s no wonder that it’s difficult for many diabetics to get into a regular exercise routine. The thought of exercising just brings thoughts of pain for many diabetics. But when diabetics miss out on exercise, they also miss out on one of the biggest benefits of movement: stress reduction. And keeping stress at bay is critical for diabetics because stress directly impacts blood sugar.
Reduce Stress, Improve Blood Sugar Levels
If there’s one constant in modern life, it’s stress. There is job stress. Financial stress. Interpersonal stress. The commute to work. Being unemployed or stuck in a job you hat…the list goes on and on. There is no getting away from stress. But if you’re diabetic, stress can be especially harmful. In stressful situations, stress hormones cause the liver to release glucose. This is to prepare our bodies in anticipation of having to flee a dangerous situation. The problem is that not every instance of stress requires that action. For example, some diabetics report that their blood sugar can be driven up merely by watching a horror movie!
Stress Affects Your Blood Sugar in Another Weird Way
Stress also tends to do something else to your body...and that’s to tie your muscles up in sore knots. Believe it or not, these knotted muscles can affect your blood sugar, too. Muscle knots put pressure put on small blood vessels. In turn, blood flow becomes into the muscle becomes restricted as a result. Thus glucose is prevented from being moved into the cells and used as a source of energy. When too much glucose stays in the bloodstream long term, it can lead to eye, kidney and nerve damage, slow healing of wounds and even heart attack and stroke. Which is exactly why it’s important for diabetics to stretch. Not only can stretching reduce stress, but it can also help release tense muscles, which increases glucose uptake and blood flow. And that’s not all. Stretching also stimulates receptors that decrease the production of stress hormone. The beauty of it all is that you don’t need to be a jock to get benefits from stretching, either. In fact, stretching just may be the ideal exercise for diabetics. "In contrast to high-intensity workouts, where adrenaline may actually raise your blood sugar, dynamic stretching can cause by a dramatic drop in your levels, depending on the duration of your activity" - Roy Collins, LyfeBulb.com
You Don’t Need Crossfit Intensity to Make Gains
If you haven’t exercised in a while, the thought of a strenuous workout might be intimidating. But you don’t need a strenuous exercise routine to improve your blood sugar levels and flexibility. In particular, several studies have shown that simple stretching routines are enough to improve blood sugar levels. Passive static stretching of the skeletal muscles may be a modality that could accrue the benefits of exercise without its accompanying physical stress. - Nelson et al. The Journal of Physiotherapy reported a study where 40 minutes of stretching reduced blood pressure. Participants in the study were divided into two groups. One group stretched without tension. The second group was asked to stretch until they could feel it. Then therapists running the study held participants in the 2nd group in the stretch for 30 seconds. Blood sugar levels were measured at the 20-minute mark of the 40-minute session. The group that stretched under tension showed a reduction in blood sugar of an average of 28 mg/dl. The researchers hypothesized that stretching opened up small blood vessels so glucose was better able to enter cells and be absorbed. And that leads us to another potential benefit of stretching for diabetics - more flexible bodies make for more flexible arteries. And if you have high blood pressure (as many diabetics do), nothing is sexier than flexible arteries.
In a second study, middle-aged and older adults who undertook a stretching exercise regimen significantly improved the flexibility of their carotid arteries. This is a breakthrough because if this artery becomes blocked it leads to ischemic stroke. The researchers found that stretching routines that contributed to an increase in trunk flexibility led to a corresponding increase of as much as 20% in flexibility and elasticity of the arteries. An additional benefit was a reduction in blood pressure. In another study, researchers compared how stretching and restorative yoga compared for blood sugar reduction. Volunteers were separated into two groups. The first group were taught stretching exercises by a kinesiologist. The second learned restorative yoga, where poses are held with the aid of assistive devices such as blocks and straps. While the stretching group has a 7.1% reduction in systolic blood pressure, the restorative yoga group reduced systolic BP by a whopping 19.5%. After 24 hours, the restorative yoga group still showed a 9.5% reduction in blood pressure.