The REAL Benefits of Exercising

If you have diabetes, you’ve probably heard a million times that exercise is an important part of managing diabetes. That’s true of course, but it took me two years to realise how important it was. And in ways that no health care professional has ever explained to me. I know, I’m so slow to catch on sometimes.

When I was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes over 2 years ago, my doctor (as all reasonable doctors would) prescribed me daily exercise, along with a hefty dose of medication. He also added: “Your diabetes is very serious. It won’t do you much good to walk 30 minutes a day – you must walk 1-2 hours every day.”

Which was a lot to ask of me I thought, since at that time I was doing exactly zero exercise. But I did my best to amend my ways. In a few weeks I was walking an hour a day. A few months later I started running, too, clutching my iPhone in one hand, listing to the robotic commands of the “Couch to 5k” application. It took me 6 months to reach the 5k goal but I did it. I was running pretty much every single night for 5-7 kilometers. I felt virtuous.

But all this time, I had the wrong idea about exercising. I thought it was just to lower my blood sugar level for that day. So I’d eat a nice dinner, pop my medication, and go for a run to let my sugar level drop to a normal level. Life was under control.

Then, a few months ago, I began to slack off and stopped exercising. It was a rather stressful period of my life, what with separation and moving to a new house (not to mention it was in the middle of a freezing mountain winter). I know, excuses, excuses… But the point is I did let regular exercising slip away…. I mean, if you skip one day, it’s so easy to skip the next day, and so on. You know how it goes.

And just like that, my health started to fall apart. My blood sugar was high. I lost a lot of my muscles because I wasn’t moving – which made me avoid exercising more. Before I knew it, even walking around my backyard began to hurt my legs.

I felt tired and weak all the time, so I craved more sugary, high-carb, oily food to comfort me. I was also eating all.the.time. Forget Dr. Fuhrman’s mandate to avoid snacking between meals – I just had no will power to stop snacking. I mean, if there was a cake lying around, I’d just eat it. My brain was also foggy, so I drank coffee after coffee just to stay afloat mentally.

My energy level dropped to an all-time low. Often I’d wake up in the morning and just sit there in front of my laptop for hours, mindlessly surfing the net and not having an ounce of energy to do anything else. Then I’d stay up till wee hours in the morning just catch up on work – drinking more coffee and snacking. The resulting lack of sleep made me even more tired the next day.

In short, it was a bad case of vicious cycle – a spiral down to an early death no doubt!

Which is when I finally had the lightbulb moment: I need to start exercising again. And this time, I realised it’s not just about lowering blood sugar level temporarily after meals. It’s to alter my entire lifestyle, and to reverse this downward spiral.

So here it is people – the list of real benefits of exercising regularly:

(1) Regular exercising builds and maintains your muscles (I know, it is obvious but please read on).

(2) When you are physically strong, you have more energy to do more stuff – more work, more gardening, more housework – in short you are more productive.

When you are more productive during the day, you feel okay about going to bed earlier. And getting enough sleep does wonders to your mood and energy level the next day.

(3) When you exercise, you are not craving food. It’s true! You are not hungry when you are sweating in a fitness class or fast walking around the neighbourhood. Even when you come home afterwards, I’m often not hungry for hours. So yay, I can stick with Dr. Fuhrman’s “no snacking” regime better.

(4) Your body affects your mind directly. When you are physically strong, your mind is clearer and stronger. I don’t have foggy brains after I exercise. It helps a lot with my work to have a clear mind.

And guess what, when you concentrate on your work (or blog writing or gardening), you don’t feel the compulsion to eat. Eating had become a way of procrastination and distraction for me, when I didn’t have enough mental energy to do anything much.

(5) With a clearer mind, you also have better self-control when it comes to food. Should I have a green smoothie for breakfast, or make that carb-rich sandwich with gooey vegan cheese in the middle? When your mind is strong, you have the will power to opt for that smoothie. And what about those leftover muffins I made for my kids? Well you don’t have to eat them. Toss them into the compost bin, I say!

So there you go. It only took me two years to realise all these real benefits of exercising. I can blame my doctor for not explaining all this to me in the first place, but really, I wonder if he knew himself.

It is hard sometimes to get yourself out there to walk, run, or got to a fitness class every day. But now that I realise your entire life is at stake, I am extra motivated to keep up with exercising this time around.