With rates of diabetes and prediabetes skyrocketing in the United States, we often hear that diet, exercise, proper sleep, and stress management are strategies for helping to keep blood sugar in check. With these goals in mind, many experts recommend yoga for diabetes management, and it’s no surprise. After all, practicing yoga is a great way to stay active as well as centered and calm. People who practice yoga also report sleeping better.
Since the conditions are so prevalent, it’s likely that diabetes or prediabetes affects someone you know and care about—someone who works very hard to keep blood sugar under control or one who would like some tips on how to lower blood sugar. Maybe that someone is you.
Yoga for Diabetes
According to Jacqueline Shahar, an exercise physiologist associated with Joslin Diabetes Center, who agrees that yoga may be a good tool for managing stress, the key to practicing yoga for diabetes is to make sure you practice under the guidance of teachers who understand the condition. While yoga is not a substitute for medical care, it likely can help lower blood sugar directly or indirectly in a few ways.
- Yoga can create a sense of deep relaxation. This is in contrast to the “fight or flight” adrenaline response that raises cortisol levels, which causes the body to release sugar into the blood.
- Yoga can help you build muscle. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. In short, the more muscle you have, the more effectively your body will metabolize sugar.
- Yoga can help you maintain a healthy weight. If you do more vigorous types of yoga, like vinyasa or power yoga, you will burn calories, which can help with weight loss or maintenance of a healthy weight. Being at a healthy weight is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for people who have or are at risk for type 2 diabetes. Excess weight is associated with insulin resistance, a condition that interferes with the body’s ability to use insulin to remove sugar from the blood.
- Yoga may help keep blood sugar from rising. Many people with diabetes find that their sugar levels rise over time. However, one study of 123 diabetic adults showed that practicing gentle yoga for diabetes helped maintain stable sugar levels.
- Yoga breathing exercises can help increase the circulation of oxygen through the blood. According to an article in Men’s Health magazine, combining breathing exercises with twists may help the pancreas digest sugar better.
Of course, all of these benefits are great reasons for anyone to practice yoga. As with most healthy habits, you don’t have to wait until you have a medical problem to begin or stick with a regular yoga practice. In fact, if you start before you have a problem, you may lower your risk for developing the condition to begin with. But if you do find yourself with the challenges of high blood sugar, yoga may be a key part of your overall strategy for staying healthy, and it’s a strategy you can implement for many years to come.