Christopher Gagliardi by Christopher Gagliardi

The prevalence of diabetes impacts public health significantly. As a fitness professional, you will likely encounter clients who have diabetes. Having a basic understanding of the condition, along with how exercise impacts those with diabetes, will make you more effective in your mission to get people moving. This blog will focus on the role insulin plays within the body and how defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both, may affect your clients.

Insulin is a hormone secreted from the pancreas. Its role is to facilitate the uptake and utilization of glucose by the cells and prevent the breakdown of glycogen. In other words, insulin decreases blood sugar levels. Insulin is countered by another hormone secreted from the pancreas called glucagon, which opposes the effects of insulin by increasing blood sugar levels. So when blood glucose levels are high, insulin is released and glucose is removed from the blood to bring levels back down to a normal range. Glucagon is released when blood glucose levels are too low and stimulates the release of glucose from the liver. Both insulin and glucagon work together using opposing actions to keep blood sugar levels within normal ranges.

When insulin isn’t being produced or functioning properly, this balancing act between insulin and glucagon no longer occurs and, if untreated, will result in chronically elevated blood glucose levels. A blood glucose level greater than 126 mg/dL is an indicator for diabetes.

There are three types of diabetes that are all the result of defective insulin production or action.

Type 1

  • Develops when the body’s immune system destroys the cells responsible for insulin production (i.e., the body does not produce enough insulin)
  • Can develop at any age, but most often occurs in children
  • Requires regular insulin injections or an insulin pump
  • Makes up 5 to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases

Type 2

  • Most common form (90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases)
  • Initially presents as insulin resistance (i.e., the cells do not use insulin properly)
  • Pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce insulin
  • 75 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are obese

Gestational Diabetes

  • Glucose intolerance that occurs during pregnancy
  • Present in 7 percent of all pregnancies
  • A woman has a 40 to 60 percent greater chance of developing diabetes after experiencing gestational diabetes

Almost 8 percent of the population has diabetes, which means it is likely that you may be working with a client who has been diagnosed with diabetes. The benefits of exercise are substantial and well-documented, and it is important for you to understand what is taking place within the body to help your clients reach their health-related goals. Just a few of the many benefits that exercise can provide for diabetic clients include:

  • Decreased blood sugar
  • Improved insulin sensitivity, meaning your body’s insulin can work better
  • Lowers risk of heart disease
  • Improves circulation


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