An online diabetes resource will help people with the disease take control of their health, says a Toronto specialist in cardiac rehabilitation.

Dr. Paul Oh, medical director of the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program and GoodLife fitness chair at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (Toronto Rehab), University Health Network, played a key role in the creation of the Sun Life Financial Diabetes College, which launches online today.

What is the Diabetes College?

Dr. Paul Oh“Diabetes College is an open, accessible resource for anybody who wants to take control of their diabetes,” says Dr. Oh, who points out that people with diabetes share a lot in common with those with heart disease.

Toronto Rehab and Sun Life Financial teamed up to create the Sun Life Financial Diabetes College, following the success of the hospital’s similar online rehabilitation program, Cardiac College.

The virtual college offers lifestyle tools, learning modules in several languages and healthy-living tips reflecting cultural diversity.

Understanding the relationship between diabetes and heart disease

According to Dr. Oh, diabetes and heart disease share several common risk factors, such as high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

As well, individuals with diabetes are also at higher risk than the general population for developing heart disease. After studying more than 50,000 heart patients in cardiac rehabilitation and finding that these patients became fitter, stronger and returned to work and life successfully, Dr. Oh and his team tailored the rehab model for diabetes patients.

The Diabetes College offers step-by-step instructions on safely engaging in physical activity and learning healthy eating habits, as well as information on medication and proper foot care.

When people with diabetes are physically active on a daily basis, says Dr. Oh, their blood sugar stabilizes and may even drop by as many as 3 or 4 points – quite a significant amount.

“Regular exercise is as powerful in lowering glucose as all the drugs available,” he adds, “with added beneficial side effects such as weight control and improved mood.”

Among his recommendations:

  • Walking a minimum of 30 minutes a day
  • Performing resistance training with free weights and elastic bands twice a week
  • Sitting less (Read more: Tips to reducing your chair time).

“Do something fun like tennis, golf and Zumba,” he says. “Doing so will keep you engaged over the long term.”

Monitor your blood sugar levels

Unlike cardiac patients, however, people with diabetes should check their sugars before and after exercise and prepare for a potential sudden drop in blood sugar by having access to juice or sugar tablets.

“Sometimes,” Dr. Oh explains, “underlying heart problems can surface.”

If chest pains occur during exercise, tell your family doctor right away.

For more information, visit Diabetes College.