How To Use Exercise To Balance Your Blood Sugar: A Health Coach Explains

Photo: @lauren_bongiorno

If you think you only have to be concerned with your blood sugar if you're a diabetic, think again. As a type 1 diabetic of 17 years and a diabetic health coach, I can tell you that yes—keeping your blood sugar in check as a diabetic is crucial for overall health. But what you might not know is how important balancing blood sugar is for everyone, regardless of whether or not you're a diabetic.

If you’ve ever experienced sugar cravings, energy slumps, brain fog, or trouble with losing weight, the solution might be looking at how to better balance your blood sugar.

Most blood sugar problems we see are a result of insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas whose job is to help cells take in glucose to be used for energy. If we’re insulin-resistant, we’re left with blood sugar building up and excess insulin production, and both can subsequently lead to the symptoms I mentioned above.

I test my blood sugar between seven and eight times per day and know exactly which habits keep my blood sugar stable. It’s fascinating to me that on the days when I make room for outdoor exercise, it significantly affects my blood sugar in a positive way for the next 24 hours and has a positive impact on my hormone regulation.

In case you need a little convincing, here are three ways that working outside helps to balance your blood sugar:

1. Outdoor exercise reduces cortisol.

So many of us are inside working for the majority of the day. As human beings, we were created to be outside and be one with our environment. When we’re sitting in front of the computer for hours on end or rushing back and forth between meetings in our car, the body can be easily stressed out, resulting in the production of cortisol and adrenaline.

When this happens, the blood sugar in the body rises in order to supply energy for that "fight or flight" mode. The problem, though, is that if the body doesn’t actually need that extra energy, cells might become resistant to insulin. Outdoor exercise gives the body the opportunity to lower stress levels, which ultimately allows for increased insulin sensitivity, or your body's ability to transport sugar out of your blood more efficiently.

2. Outdoor exercise produces extra endorphins.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, or what many of us think of as feel-good hormones. Pair this with fresh air and scenery, and your body is doing a complete happy dance. Whenever you’re able to create more happiness in one area of your life, it will often trickle into another area.

Think about it: After spending half an hour outside moving and feeling great, it's pretty unlikely that you'll go home and impulsively decide to eat sugar-filled food. You’re able to make better food decisions by choosing low-glycemic carbs, healthy fats, and a fiber-filled meal with lean protein rather than simple sugars, fried foods, or takeout.

Photo: @lauren_bongiorno

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3. More light exposure results in better sleep.

Poor sleep can directly affect hormone levels in your body, which results in decreasing insulin sensitivity and increasing your sugar cravings the next day. A study that focused on the sleep quality of 49 day-shift office workers (27 in windowless workplaces and 22 in workplaces with windows) showed that the workers with windows slept on average 46 minutes more per night. The natural light from outdoors can help you have a better night's sleep, which in turn can help you balance your blood sugar levels.

Need inspiration? Here's a 20-minute outdoor workout for you to try this week.

On days when I know I’ll be inside for most hours, I make time to get outside. Here's an example of a simple workout I did just last week:

Warm up jog

5 minutes of 30 second sprints followed by 30 second recovery jog ( you can use light poles or street signs as markers).

Park bench circuit:

Alternating leg bench step ups (20)

Squat jumps (15)

Pushups (10)

High knees (50)

Tricep dips (15)

*repeat 2x

5 minute fast jog

1 minute of forward lunge hops

Cool down jog

Stretch it out!

Love hiking and trail running? Find out how Jordan Younger used outdoor exercise to heal her gut.

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