By Sheri R. Colberg, PhD
You may have started the new year out with the best of intentions to increase your fitness and better manage your diabetes by exercising regularly. If you have diabetes or are at risk for developing the disease, deciding to commit to fitness could be a real lifesaver. That’s why it’s more important than ever that you make sure this decision sticks. Here are some motivational tips for getting started being more active:
Check Your Blood Glucose
When you start a new exercise, checking your blood glucose before, during (if you’re active more than an hour), and after your workout pays off. A reading that changes — especially in the direction that you want it to — can be very rewarding and motivating. If you don’t check, you may never realize what a positive impact you can have on your diabetes simply by being active.
For example, say your blood glucose is a little high after you eat a meal, and you want it to go lower without taking (or releasing) any more insulin. You can exercise after your meal and bring your blood glucose down within two hours after eating and taking insulin, or you can avoid or lower post-meal spikes in your blood glucose.
Start with Easier Activities
Start slowly with easier activities and progress cautiously to working out harder. Exercising too hard right out of the gate is likely to make you end up discouraged or injured, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while. If you often complain about being too tired to exercise, your lack of physical activity is likely what’s making you feel sluggish. After you begin doing even light or moderate activities, your energy levels rise along with your fitness, and your physical (and mental) health improves.
Pick Activities You Enjoy
Most adults need exercise to be fun, or they lose their motivation to do it over time. It’s human nature to avoid doing the things you really don’t like to do, so try to pick activities you truly enjoy, such as salsa dancing or golfing (as long as you walk and carry your own clubs). Having fun with your activities lets you more easily make them a permanent and integral part of your diabetes management. If you haven’t found any that you enjoy much yet, choose some new ones to take out for a test run (so to speak).
Spice It Up
An essential motivator involves mixing your workouts up with different activities. People commonly complain about exercise being boring. Feelings of boredom with your program can be the result of repeating the same exercises each day. To make it more exciting, try different physical activities for varying durations and at different intensities. Knowing that you don’t have to do the same workout day after day is motivating by itself.
Have a Plan B
Always have a backup plan that includes other activities you can do in case of inclement weather or other barriers to your planned exercise. For example, if a sudden snowstorm traps you at home on a day you planned to swim laps at the pool, be ready to walk on the treadmill or substitute some of resistance activities. You can always distract yourself during your second-choice exercise to make the time pass more pleasantly. Read a book or magazine, watch your favorite TV program, listen to music or a book on tape, or talk with a friend on the phone while you’re working out.
Get an Exercise Buddy (or Several)
You don’t need to go it alone when being active. Having a regular (and reliable) exercise buddy increases your likelihood of participating, and it also makes your activities more social and fun. Get your spouse, family members, friends, and co-workers to join in your physical activities, regardless of what time of day you do them. Having a good social network to support your new or renewed exercise habit helps you adhere to it over the long run.
Put your planned exercise down on your calendar or to-do list like you would other appointments. You show up for your doctor appointments, so why should scheduling your physical activity be any different? Never make the mistake of assuming it’ll happen just because you claim that you want to do it a certain number of days per week or month. It takes some planning ahead and the commitment to make it a priority.
Set Goals and Reward Yourself
Setting goals helps keep your interest up. For instance, if you walk for exercise, you may want to get a pedometer and set a goal of adding in 2,000 more steps each day. Break your larger goals into smaller, realistic stepping-stones (such as daily and weekly physical activity goals) for all your active lifestyle changes, and use SMART goals. Trackers, activity logs, and other motivational tools are also widely available online. Tip: Reward yourself when you reach your exercise goals (but preferably not with food).
Take Advantage of Opportunities for Spontaneous Physical Activity
You don’t have to do activities at a high intensity for them to be effective for diabetes and weight management. You can also add physical movement all day long doing anything you want to, including gardening, housework, and many other spontaneous physical activities. For instance, if you have a sedentary desk job take the stairs rather than the elevator whenever you can. Walk to someone else’s office or the neighbor’s house to deliver a message instead of relying on the phone or email. Or park your car at the far end of the parking lot and walk the extra distance. Guess what? You’ve just gotten yourself more active without giving it much thought.
Take Small Steps
If you get out of your normal activity routine and are having trouble getting restarted, simply take small steps in that direction. You may need to start back at a lower intensity by using lighter weights, less resistance, or a slower walking speed. Starting out slowly with small steps helps you avoid burnout, muscle soreness, and injury. Even doing only 5 to 10 minutes at a time (rather than 30 or more) is fine. After you’re up and moving, you may feel good enough to exceed the time you planned on doing in the first place. The key is to begin through any means possible.
Are you physically active and do you have diabetes (of any type)? Now is your chance to share how you manage your diabetes regimen while doing a variety of activities!
A new edition of Dr. Sheri Colberg’s book, Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook, is coming out in Spring 2019. Please complete the diabetic athlete survey at the link below no later than May 15 for possible inclusion.
Please pass the survey on to everyone else you know who is active with diabetes. Thanks for your time and input!
Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, is the author of Diabetes & Keeping Fit For Dummies. She is Professor Emerita of Exercise Science from Old Dominion University and an internationally recognized diabetes motion expert. She is the author of 12 books, 25 book chapters, and over 300 articles. She was honored with the 2016 American Diabetes Association Outstanding Educator in Diabetes Award. Contact her via her websites (SheriColberg.com and DiabetesMotion.com).
The above tips come from my latest book, Diabetes and Keeping Fit For Dummies. It offers all the guidance and step-by-step instruction you need to make exercise a priority in your diabetes management. This informative, down-to-earth guide shows you how to incorporate exercise into your routine, even if you haven’t been in a gym since high school. Get it online at Amazon.com or Dummies.com/store.