What is diabetes?
November is American Diabetes Month. Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood. Diabetes can cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.
There are three main types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes
In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not make insulin. This is a problem because you need insulin to take the sugar (glucose) from the foods you eat and turn it into energy for your body. People with Type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to live. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children or young adults.
Type 2 diabetes
In Type 2 diabetes, the body does not make or use insulin very well. You may need to take pills or insulin to help control your diabetes. Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes.
Pregnant women sometimes get this type of diabetes. Most of the time, it goes away after the baby is born. But even if it goes away, these women and their children have a greater chance of getting diabetes later in life.
Complications of Diabetes
Diabetes dramatically increases the risk of various cardiovascular problems, including coronary artery disease with chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke and narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis). If you have diabetes, you are more likely to have heart disease or stroke.
Excess sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that nourish your nerves, especially in your legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward. Left untreated, you could lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs.
The kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters that filter waste from your blood. Diabetes can damage this delicate filtering system. Severe damage can lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, which may require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Blindness and Eye Problems
Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina (diabetic retinopathy), potentially leading to blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of other serious vision conditions, such as cataracts and glaucoma.
Physical activity and diabetes
We know that physical activity and keeping a healthy weight is a good way to keep you heart healthy. But it can also help you take care of your diabetes and prevent diabetes complications. Physical activity helps your blood glucose stay in your target range. Even a 10 or 15 pound weight loss makes a difference in reducing the risk of diabetes problems.
Physical activity also helps the hormone insulin absorb glucose into all your body’s cells, including your muscles, for energy. Muscles use glucose better than fat does. Building and using muscle through physical activity can help prevent high blood glucose. If your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or if the insulin doesn’t work the way it should, the body’s cells won’t use glucose. This causes your blood glucose levels to get too high, causing diabetes.
What kinds of physical activity can help me?
Many kinds of physical activity can help you take care of your diabetes. Even small amounts of physical activity can help. You can measure your physical activity level by how much effort you use.
Doctors suggest that you aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week. Children and adolescents with type 2 diabetes who are 10 to 17 years old should aim for 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day.
Your doctor can tell you more about what kind of physical activity is best for you. He or she can also tell you when and how much you can increase your physical activity level.
Light physical activity
- You are breathing normally
- You are not sweating
- You can talk normally or even sing
Moderate physical activity
- You are breathing quickly, yet you’re not out of breath
- You are lightly sweating after about 10 minutes of activity
- You can talk normally, yet you can’t sing
Vigorous physical activity
- You are breathing deeply and quickly
- You are sweating after a few minutes of activity
- You can’t talk normally without stopping for a breath
Not all physical activity has to take place at the same time. You might take a walk for 20 minutes, lift hand weights for 10 minutes, then walk up and down the stairs for 5 minutes.
How Can You Learn More about Diabetes?
- Take classes to learn more about living with diabetes. Mercy Health System offers free diabetes classes regularly throughout the year. To find a class, go to the Events page of our website.
- Join a support group—in-person or online—to get peer support with managing your diabetes. Mercy Health System also offers regular diabetes support groups, which are free and require no registration.
- Read about diabetes online. Go to National Diabetes Education Program.
Sources: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, American Diabetes Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Mayo Clinic.