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Can a Soup Can Workout Impact *My* Blood Glucose Levels? (Big Blue Test)

Posted Nov 15 2010 3:59pm
Well, I had fully intended to do my Big Blue Test at the proper date and time.  But then, I had to get in a long run/walk, and I thought (ha!) that I'd have time later in the day to do a test.  Little did I think that I'd be so enthralled by the day that I'd go a little over 8 miles!  Well, wouldn't you with this kind of a view?


And I came across this during my stroll and though it was pretty darn funny.


Maybe the same could be said about the gelato I ate at the halfway point.  I had originally planned on going 6 miles, but it turns out my meanderings took me 7.5, so I did some neighborhood loops to get it to 8.

Afterward, I thought to myself, "Whew!  What a workout.  And if I were doing my half-marathon, I'd still have 5 more miles to go.  Yikes!"

So Big Blue Test got tabled until today.

Belated Big Blue Test

My experiment for Big Blue Test ( http://bigbluetest.org/ ) was to see what impact seated, upper body weight exercises with soup cans would have on my blood glucose levels.  I was curious about this, because upper body strength exercises might be one of the few options for people with limited mobility.

I assembled my equipment:  2 soup cans (approx. 2 lbs each), 1 blood glucose meter, 1 list of exercises.  Since it was a gorgeous day, I took it all to the park during my lunch break.



My last snack was at 10:30 a.m. (dry roasted wasabi edamame and 2 Tbsp chia seeds in green tea), and it was 1 p.m. when I started my test.  I tested my blood glucose levels.  Starting blood glucose level: 101


For 14 minutes, I did the following upper-body exercises while seated:
  • Bicep curls (1st set done alternating arms, 2nd set done both arms at the same time)
  • Triceps extensions (1st set done alternating arms, 2nd set done both arms at the same time)
  • Front raise
  • Shoulder press
  • Side raise
  • Triceps kickback (I didn't kneel on the bench, I just laid down over my thigh.  Bad form, that.)
  • Upright row
  • Shrugs (do these even really do anything?)
  • Bent-over row (These I did do with proper form)
  • Bent-over raises 
I did one set (15 repetitions) of all of these, and then I got through the triceps kickbacks on my second set.  I thought I'd get 2 or 3 sets in and worried about having enough to do - I obviously overestimated how quickly I could do these!

When the timer went off, I retested my blood glucose levels. Ending blood glucose level: 98.  Hmmm...

What happened?

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed by the result.  My test last year - 15 minutes of moderate walking - had amazed me.  ( Click here to see that one )

Some possible reasons why today's test didn't work quite as effectively
  • For me, heavier weights would have probably been more effective.  My upper body is not super strong, but for all of these exercises, I currently use dumbbells that are more than 2 pounds each.  I felt the shoulder raises a little, but otherwise I did not feel any muscle fatigue during these exercises. Also, do arm muscles use as much energy?  Probably not.
  • Strength exercises have a different effect on blood glucose levels than aerobic exercise. From what I've read, strength exercise isn't the best option for lowering a blood glucose reading in the short-term, but it can have a good effect on the longer term.  In the short term, "[s]trength-oriented exercise...generally requires short, repetitive and intensive bursts of movement. This type of exercise can provoke a hormone response known as the 'fight or flight' or 'adrenalin' response that can temporarily raise blood glucose levels." (source:  http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/factsheets/special_diets2/diabetes_and_sports_nutrition )  Somehow, I don't think my soup cans activated this response in me.  Yet in the longer term, strength/resistance training helps build muscle mass, which is more insulin sensitive than other body tissue, and can help regulate overall blood glucose levels rather than post-activity levels.  Plus it helps in other ways, such as with preventing osteoporosis. (source:  http://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/18/2/71.full )  
  • Could I be experiencing some issues with insulin sensitivity?  After my test, I took a 30 minute walk.  At the end of that, my blood glucose level was 92, which is only 9 less than my pre-test level.  I would have expected the brisk walk to have a greater impact.  Some possibilities include my menstrual phase (I'm much less insulin sensitive right before menstruation - even without succumbing to the urge to face-plant into the nearest sugar/salt/fat food source) or delayed-onset muscle soreness (which, I've read in The Diabetic Athlete, can impact one's insulin sensitivity until the muscles are healed).  I feel some soreness after yesterday's adventure, but nothing compared to last Wednesday's "Medicine Ball Melange" in CardioSculpt class.  So the double-whammy might be messing with the results a little bit.
Will I try again?  Definitely!  The next version will be sooner after eating something and use the proper amount of weight for me.  I'm also going to test before and after CardioSculpt class and see how that affects my blood glucose levels.

More Reading for the Curious

An excellent article summarizing some of the above points is by Dr. Sheri Colberg-Ochs, author of The Diabetic Athlete, titled "Aerobic Versus Anaerobic Exercise:  What Is the Difference, and Why Does It Matter?"  She also has another good article for those dealing with mobility issues, titled " Exercising with Excess Body Weight, Orthopedic Problems, and Arthritis ," which includes some specific exercise DVD recommendations.

Try Your Own Experiment!

If you're newly diagnosed and have been advised by your doctor or diabetes educator to use exercise as part of your plan to manage your diabetes, why not try your own "big blue test" and see if your results confirm or deny the effect of exercise on your blood glucose levels? (Unless, of course, your doctor says "No way!" or your blood glucose meter says "WTH?!?!" "250" or higher.)

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