Could a morning meditation upgrade your healthy lifestyle?
Mindfulness is a way of focusing on the now and actively being in the present moment. As one of the key pillars of The Fast 800, mindfulness is a wonderful inclusion in every healthy lifestyle for its ability to help in reducing stress and improving mental health. A regular, short morning meditation is a useful tool to include in your healthy lifestyle to help reduce stress and, potentially, stabilise your blood sugar levels.
What is stress and how does it manifest?
Stress is your body’s reaction to what it considers to be a dangerous scenario. Although we’ve come a long way over the centuries, the stress response is the same as it would have been when cavemen were being chased by hungry beasts, only these days, the stress response kicks in during lots of different experiences, even if they might not be life-threatening. When you’re physically or emotionally stressed, your “fight or flight” response is triggered. This is your body releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which work to pull glucose into the blood to fuel your efforts to stay alert and energised – important when you’re trying to survive, just as those cavemen would have needed plenty of fuel to run faster. Your stress hormones also produce physiological changes including an increased heart rate and blood pressure, rapid, shallow breathing and sweaty palms.1 Body systems not required for immediate survival, like digestion and reproduction, are dialled down. Once the body perceives it is no longer under threat, other parts of the nervous system step in to bring it back to a state of calm and typical functioning.
These days, many people encounter a number of stressors day-to-day, and as a result, this low-level chronic stress continuously triggers the release of stress hormones, which can cause or exacerbate health issues.
How does stress impact blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes?
If glucose is frequently being pulled into the bloodstream as a result of chronic stress, this can worsen insulin resistance. Additionally, the physiological signs of stress may amplify the risks associated with type 2 diabetes, as both may damage blood vessels and arteries, raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.2
Those with untreated type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes have difficulty managing blood glucose levels. This is exacerbated by stress hormones, further contributing to the potential consequences of long-term elevated blood glucose, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, blindness and loss of circulation to limbs.3 Even for those without a diabetes diagnosis, it has been recognised that individuals with high levels of cortisol have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.4 By taking steps to manage stress, you are actively lowering your risk of serious health complications.
The potential impact of mindfulness on blood sugar levels
Mindfulness can be practised in many forms, from a quick morning meditation to an afternoon walk, with benefits extending beyond reducing feelings of stress.
A 2018 study took two groups of volunteers – one meditated daily and the other did not – and monitored the participants over a period of six months. Significant changes were seen in the meditation group as blood glucose and insulin sensitivity improved.5 The study also concluded meditation could decrease levels of cortisol, improving blood sugar levels as a result.
With so much positive research, it is unsurprising that diabetes organisations across the globe encourage the practice of mindfulness6 alongside a healthy diet and exercise routine like on The Fast 800.
How to practice mindfulness
- Mindfulness meditation– consider waking up a little earlier than usual for a morning meditation, deep breathing or a stretch. You might like to incorporate some movement or a routine like our Health Coaches do.
- Engage in mindful eating – eat slowly at a table, with no distractions like a TV or device and take note of all aspects of food (taste, colour, texture, smell, appearance). Research recognises that mindful eating gives individuals with type 2 diabetes an opportunity to self-manage their condition.7
- Go for a walk – if you can, leave your phone at home and focus on your surroundings. Use your senses to actively recognise what you can see, smell, hear, and feel. Science has found walking can reduce anxiety and the physical symptoms associated with stress.8
If you’re not sure where to start, The Fast 800 online programme has a collection of meditations and mindfulness guides, made exclusively for members, to guide you through. The meditations all serve different purposes from practising compassion to guided mindful eating. For an introduction, try this breathing technique with Dr Michael Mosley.
With uncertainty in the world, it’s important to take control of your health and wellbeing, and mindfulness is an enjoyable way to do so. Simply taking a few moments away from your day to practise a morning meditation, go for a walk or take a few deep breaths can make vast improvements to your mental wellbeing and metabolic health.
Please note that any information provided is not meant as a substitute for care by your usual health professional, who should be consulted for any medical concerns and conditions.
Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057-1072. Published 2017 Jul 21. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480
Goetsch VL, Wiebe DJ, Veltum LG, Van Dorsten B. Stress and blood glucose in type II diabetes mellitus. Behav Res Ther. 1990;28(6):531-7. doi: 10.1016/0005-7967(90)90140-e. PMID: 2076091.
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Study links stress hormone with higher blood sugar in Type 2 diabetes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 July 2020.
Sinha SS, Jain AK, Tyagi S, Gupta SK, Mahajan AS. Effect of 6 Months of Meditation on Blood Sugar, Glycosylated Hemoglobin, and Insulin Levels in Patients of Coronary Artery Disease. Int J Yoga. 2018;11(2):122-128. doi:10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_30_17
Miller CK. Mindful Eating With Diabetes. Diabetes Spectr. 2017;30(2):89-94. doi:10.2337/ds16-0039
Cindy L. Carmack, Ph.D., Edwin Boudreaux, Ph.D., Marta Amaral-Melendez, Ph.D., Phillip J. Brantley, Ph.D., Carl de Moor, Ph.D., Aerobic fitness and leisure physical activity as moderators of the stress-illness relation, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 21, Issue 3, September 1999, Pages 251–257, https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02884842