While many people may begin exercising out of a sense of responsibility – the way children eat vegetables they don’t like – the main reason they keep exercising is that it feels good. Whether it’s the intense competition of a fast and furious basketball game, or cycling alone in the countryside, exercise brings many rewards – physical, psychological, and social. The genes of all our cells contain at their tail ends a sequence of identical groups of nucleic acids called telomeres. Every time a cell replicates, it loses a telomere. After the last telomere is gone, that cell line dies off. Thus the lifetime of every cell and, in turn, of the whole person, depends upon the lengths of telomere chains. Intensive exercise generates new telomeres and thereby prolongs life. This discovery is very new and obviously very important. People who aren’t diabetic and exercise strenuously and regularly tend to live longer, are healthier, look healthier and younger, and have lower rates of debilitating and incapacitating illnesses such as osteoporosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, memory loss as a result of aging – and the list goes on. Overall, people who exercise regularly are better equipped to carry o day-to-day activities as they age.
Many type 1 diabetics have been ill for so long with the debilitating effects of roller-coaster blood sugars that they are often depressed about their health and a positive mental attitude. If you’re a type 1 diabetic, as I am, strenuous exercise will not improve your blood sugar control as it will for type 2’s (which we’ll discuss shortly), but it can have a profound effect on your self-image. It’s possible, if you keep your blood sugars normala nd exercise regularly and strenuously, to be in better health than your nondiabetic friends. Also, it’s been my experience that type 1 diabetics who engage in a regular exercise program tend to take better care of their blood sugars and diet.
Think of exercise as money in the bank – every 30 minutes you put into keeping in shape today will not only leave you better off right now, it will pay continuing dividends in the future. If going up the stairs yesterday left you huffing and puffing, in a while you’ll bound up the steps. Your strength will likely make you feel younger and possibly more confident. There is evidence that exercise actually does make you look younger, even the skin of those who exercise regularly tend not to age as rapidly.
After working out for a few months, you’ll look better, and people will mention it. With this kind of encouragement, you may be more likely to stick to other aspects of our regimen.
Although most of us who engage in bodybuilding exercise can experience increases in muscle mass and strength, the degree to which we respond in part genetically determined. With very similar exercise regimens, some people will show dramatic increases in both muscle mass and strength; others will show neither. Most of us lie between these two extremes. There are even people who gain strength but not large muscles, and others who build large muscles without getting much stronger. Unlike men, women who engage in strength training are much more likely to develop muscular definition than bulk. They don’t become “muscle-bound.” If you don’t develop big muscles or great strength, you will still enjoy the other benefits from the weight training described here.
It has long been known that strenuous exercise raises the levels of serum HDL (good cholesterol) and lowers triglycerides in the bloodstream. Recent studies suggest that bodybuilding exercise (anaerobic rather than aerobic exercise) also lowers serum levels of LDL (bad cholesterol). There is even evidence that atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) may be reversible in some individuals. I’m nearly eighty years old, I exercise strenuously on a daily basis, I don’t eat fruit, I’ve had type 1 diabetes for sixty -five years, and I have eggs for breakfast every day. Where’s my cholesterol? It’s in a very healthy range that nondiabetics one-third my age rarely attain (see here). Part of that is due to my low-carbohydrate diet, but part of it is due to my daily exercise program.
Frequent strenuous exercise has been shown to reduce significantly the likelihood of heart attack, stroke, and blockage of blood vessels by lowering serum fibrinogen levels. Long-term strenuous exercise lowers resting heart rate and blood pressure, further reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Weight-bearing, resistance, and impact exercise slow the loss of bone mineral associated with aging. Ever hear the slogan “Use it or lose it”? In a very real sense, if we don’t use our bones, we lose them.
Although exercise does make weight control easier, it does not directly -at least not as much as we may wish-“burn fat.” Unless you work out at a very strenuous levels for several hours each day, exercise isn’t going to have a significant direct effect upon your body fat. The effects of exercise are broader and more indirect. One of the great benefits is that many people find that when they exercise, they have less desire to overeat and are more likely to crave proteins than carbohydrates. The reasons for this are probably related to the release in the brain of neurotransmitters such as endorphins. (As noted i the previous chapter, endorphins are “endogenous opiates” manufactured in the brain. They can elevate mood, reduce pain, and reduce carbohydrate craving Brain levels of endorphins are reduced in poorly controlled diabetes.) It might be said that in the same way that obesity leads to further obesity, fitness leads to further fitness.
Even though your fat won’t “melt away,” exercise, particularly if you’re a type 2 diabetic, is still of value in a wight-reduction program because muscle building reduces insulin resistance. Insulin resistance, remember, is linked to your ratio of abdominal fat to lean body mass. The higher your ratio of abdominal fat to muscle mass, your insulin needs will be reduced – and having less insulin present in your bloodstream will reduce the amount of fat you pack away. If you remember my old friend Howie from Chapter 12, his insulin resistance dropped dramatically when he lost 100 pounds and radically changed his ratio of abdominal fat to lean body mass.
Long-term, regular, strenuous exercise also reduces insulin resistance independently of its effect upon muscle mass. This makes you more sensitive to your own and injected insulin. As a result, your insulin gradually becomes more effective at lowering blood sugar. If you inject insulin, your dosage requirements will drop, and the fat-building effects of large amounts of insulin will likewise drop. In my experience, daily strenuous exercise will, over time, bring about a steady, increased level of insulin sensitivity. This effect continues for about two weeks after stopping an exercise program. Awareness of this is especially important for those of us who inject insulin and must increase our doses after two weeks without our usual exercise. If you go out of town for only a week and cannot exercise, your increased insulin sensitivity will probably not suffer.
Although increased muscle mass also increases insulin sensitivity independently of the above effect, this is very gradual and may require many months of bodybuilding before its separate blood sugar effects become noticeable.