When you think of Type 2 Diabetes the first thing that comes to your mind is diet. I know it’s the first thing on my mind. I know it affects what you can and cannot eat. I also know that some complications may include gangrene, blindness and diabetic comas. However, did you know that Type 2 Diabetes may affect balance? That’s because type 2 Diabetes may disrupt vestibular function which is the use of your inner ear and nervous system to stay balanced. Additionally, peripheral neuropathy associated with Diabetes may also affect balance. Tai Chi can help with that!
Chronic high blood glucose “…can affect the sensorimotor receptors in the lower extremities, compromising an important mechanism for balance control.” Basically, high blood glucose can affect how the nerves in your feet communicate to your brain/body. If that communication is disrupted, you do not have the sense to correct dangerous and dysfunctional footing. Additionally, you may be unable to avoid obstacles around your feet or feel changes when the ground is uneven or there is a change in incline or a step. You may feel as helpless as if you were trying to move another person’s feet using your mind!
Apart from the vestibular disturbance I just described, Type 2 patients may have peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a feeling of numbness, tingling, paresthesia (foot “falling asleep”), tingling, burning, pins and needles, weakness or twitching in your feet or hands. Since it is subjective, it has also been described as itchy, prickly or a crawling sensation. While all of these sound mostly annoying, it can also be a dangerous symptom. Many who suffer from peripheral neuropathy complain that they cannot feel their feet and when they can all they feel is those annoying symptoms. If you cannot feel your feet you cannot keep them firm on the ground or as mentioned before, feel changes in the ground and adjust your footing accordingly.
For the above reasons, Type 2 patients, more than even other older adults need to maintain their balance. Falls can lead to serious injury, disability or even death. They are the leading cause of the loss of independence and subsequent institutionalization of older adults. Independent movement is independent living.
Tai Chi may help Type 2 patients with their glucose levels and blood pressure which affects the vestibular system. Multiple studies on Tai Chi and Diabetes have shown that Tai Chi helps reduce blood glucose and reduce insulin resistance in patients with Type 2 Diabetes. One study examined Type 2 older adults who practiced Tai Chi long-term. After the Tai Chi program, the older adults had improved flexibility, strength and aerobic endurance, all of which reduce the risk for falls.
Tai Chi can also help improve neuropathy symptoms. A study examined the effect of 24 weeks of Tai Chi on 25 people with peripheral neuropathy. After just six weeks of Tai Chi, the participants showed improved leg strength, standing balance, functional gait, plantar sensation and were able to get on their feet faster and walk for longer periods.
If you have Type 2 Diabetes you are at an even greater risk for falls than other adults. Consider adding Tai Chi to your routine to help improve and maintain your balance.