By: Nicole Johnson, MA, MPH
The summer season is drawing to a close, and you might think your time to exercise and be in the outdoors will limit the amount your exercise, now that fall is around the corner.
Most people associate spring and summer as the time to start exercising and get back into the swing of things, but in reality, those of us with diabetes know that exercise is a 365-day-a-year commitment.
Exercise is one of the biggest factors in achieving optimal glucose control and getting our numbers into the appropriate range.
In some cases, it may even reverse the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes. In most others, exercise is one of the most effective ways to fight and treat the depression and mood struggles that plague people with this condition. Think “runner’s high.”
Exercise not only aids in improving self-esteem, but science indicates that it provides a sort of protective barrier to stress and anxiety. People who are active are more likely to cope better, are mentally sharper, and have a greater sense of well-being.
The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) clinical study clearly highlights the benefits of movement. In this trial, of the over 3,200 people who already showed signs of impaired glucose tolerance, those who lost 5-7% of their body weight and walked or engaged in a moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day reduced their risk of getting Type 2 diabetes by 58%.
This trial was so successful and the results so clear, it was ended more than a year earlier than expected. The study also showed that those of us who already have diabetes can prevent the onset of complications by incorporating activity into our daily routines.
Exercise also reduces our risk for heart disease, lowers fat and cholesterol levels in our blood, and increases the production of the good (HDL) cholesterol that protects our hearts against heart disease.
I recently met a woman with diabetes who said, “the choice is simple – either move now or have your toes fall off later!” How true. Exercise or physical activity is the gateway to life for a person with diabetes. Without it, only devastation can result.
How do we get started?
There are several elements to getting started with a fitness routine. If you have diabetes, regardless of what type, you must first talk to your medical team and assess your fitness level. Your doctor will be able to advise you on where to start and what steps to take to make sure your diabetes is in check during your activity.
I have only one word – preparation. Be prepared before you start your exercise, make sure all your medications have been taken and your blood sugars are within range before heading out to exercise. There are countless stories of people who have experienced low glucose at the gym, pool, and even on the side of the road when walking. Always be prepared.
Developing your strategy
1. Set attainable goals
Do you want to lose weight? Are you seeking to elevate your mood? Is exercise a tactic to fight depression? Do you want to lower glucose levels, or are you exercising to relieve stress?
You are the only one who can determine what you want to accomplish. For example, every eight weeks or so, I set new fitness goals for myself.
For example, in the Spring, I was on a shape-up plan for swimsuit season. However, two months ago I was just trying to have lower glucose levels in the afternoon.
Whatever goals make sense for you and your lifestyle are appropriate – just stay away from the overly-aggressive goals (losing vast amounts of weight quickly) and the underachiever trap.
2. Incorporate 2-3 types of exercise that will help you accomplish your goals
As I just mentioned, the biggest trap in exercise is when your body plateaus and your fitness routine becomes old hat.
You need to always change things and challenge yourself. For instance, your fitness goals may not be met by only walking on the treadmill.
Most likely, you will need to come up with a variety of routines. My routine includes walking briskly on the treadmill, riding the stationary bike, using the elliptical machine and lifting weights – however, this may change as a result of this article. To confess, I am in a bit of a rut with my exercise plan.
3. Schedule your exercise time
Don’t just think you will “fit in” exercise when you can. This will turn into a perpetual excuse and you won’t exercise. I think we have all been there!
I often tell people that I have a meeting or an appointment that I can’t miss. My exercise is important enough to be in my daily schedule on my daily calendar, albeit sometimes my little secret.
If you try scheduling time for exercise and it still doesn’t work, consider these easy tips on incorporating movement into your daily routine:
Buy exercise equipment for your home. A treadmill will go along way
Take family walks after dinner
Consider walking and talking. Do conference calls from your cell phone and walk while listening. (Don’t forget to put the call on mute – beware of heavy breathing.) If not a conference call, catch up with friends while walking around the block. A headset can be one of your greatest investments
Park further away from the entrance to the mall or other shopping stops. Every extra step counts and you won’t waste your time circling for that front parking spot
Take the stairs
Wash your own car
Put on some music and clean the house
Remember that no matter what form of exercise you choose, 30 minutes of movement a day helps reduce the risk of diabetes and diabetes complications.
NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.