Thanks to high sugar diets and irregular exercise, more than 3 million South Africans are currently living with diabetes. Dr Larry Distiller, founder and managing director of the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology, believes the “diabetes tsunami is here.” Estimates suggest a further 5 million South Africans could have pre-diabetes, a condition that puts them at risk of contracting the condition.
These statistics are alarming, especially when you consider diabetes is largely the result of lifestyle and has no known cure. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 95% of all sufferers and is directly caused by poor diet. The disease increases the risk factor of heart disease, stroke and even blindness.
Ivana Buchanan, National Fitness Manager of Zone Fitness, believes exercise is a potent method of relieving symptoms in sufferers, and staving off the onset of the disease in pre-diabetics. “Exercise needs to be the staple diet of anyone who’s worried about the disease. You don’t need to attain a bodybuilder’s physique to be healthy. Rather concentrate on working up a sweat.”
Exercise promotes blood flow, which lowers the glucose in your blood. Regular exercise can help pre-diabetics to lose weight especially around their core area (stomach), which is a clear sign that somebody is at risk.
Buchanan suggests focusing on a combination of aerobic (cycling and rowing) and anaerobic training (strength training). Strength training improves blood sugar control through the use of weights, and builds functional strength through exercises like pushups, lunges and squats.
If you are new to the gym, start with 2 sessions of 10-30 minutes and built up to 3-5 times per week, depending on your fitness level.
“Exercise is habit-forming, so make sure you stick to your routine,” she adds. “It’s also helpful to go to gym with a friend or partner. That way you’re not doing it alone, and you can help one another with trickier exercises.”
No matter your fitness level, from super fit gym trainer to first-time attendee, anyone can join CoreBurn, a functional fitness class hosted at Zone Fitness gyms across the country. This High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class will leave you burning up to 500 calories per 30 minute session.
The class makes use of circuits in small groups and focuses on movements used in everyday life. An instructor will lead the class and use equipment like kettle bells, ropes and medicine balls to get blood flowing. The combination of lunges, squatting, pushing and pulling promotes blood flow, promotes sweating and helps burn calories.
Going forward, Health24 predicts Africa will be the continent with the greatest increase in reported cases of diabetes. Estimates suggest that incidences of the disease will have doubled by 2030, and the number of people living with diabetes is set to overtake HIV/Aids cases in 20 years.
In a country where diabetes is prevalent – and preventable – Buchanan urges more South Africans to embrace fitness. “We’re a sports mad country that promotes exercise in schools. But as time goes by, many of us lose sight of how important exercise is.”
Diabetes does not have a cure, so the best treatment is prevention itself. But for many millions of South Africans, that time has already passed.