For many, a healthy diet and regular exercise are self-prescribed ways to feel better. But for people with diabetes, diet and exercise often are medically recommended to help treat the disease.
Diabetes is a disorder where either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells in the body do not recognize the insulin.
To understand diabetes, you first need to understand the role of insulin in your body. When you eat, your body turns your food into sugar, also called glucose. At that point, the pancreas releases insulin to open the body’s cells to allow the sugar to enter so it can be used for energy.
But with diabetes, the system doesn’t work.
Without insulin, the sugar stays and builds up in the blood. So the body’s cells starve from the lack of glucose. If left untreated, complications can develop with the skin, eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart.
There are different types of diabetes, with the most common form called type 2 or adult onset diabetes. People with this type of diabetes can produce some of their own insulin, but often it’s not enough. Some of the common symptoms of diabetes include:
- Feeling very thirsty
- Frequent urination
- Feeling very hungry even when you’ve eaten
- Blurry vision
- Slow healing cuts or bruises
- Tingling, pain or numbness in hands or feet
Treatment for diabetes usually includes diet and exercise – and medicine if sugar levels remain high after lifestyle adjustments. At rehabilitation hospitals, diabetic patients often are provided a medically supervised care plan that includes physical exercise and healthy eating strategies.
Exercise helps control diabetes because it allows glucose to enter the cells without the use of insulin. It also can help lower blood glucose levels and blood pressure. In addition, exercise assists in weight loss and improves balance and energy levels.
A combination of both aerobic exercise and resistance training has the most positive effect on blood glucose levels. Physical therapists can help individualize and supervise exercises that will be the most beneficial to a patient. They monitor the exercise program to ensure safety and progress, while improving and maintaining sugar levels. The exercise plan can be carried out at home after the individual leaves the hospital.
A healthy diet also is integral to managing diabetes. How much and what types of foods are eaten affect the balance of insulin in the body and make a difference in blood glucose levels. Dietitians at rehabilitation hospitals can teach patients about carbohydrates in food, how it affects the glucose levels, and they provide practical strategies for healthy cooking and eating.
Typically through rehabilitation hospitals, patients not only receive treatment, but are educated on how to manage the disease to the best of their ability in their everyday lives. This helps them to live as independently as possible.