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Always Have a Backup Plan to Be Active

Nov 13, 2018

Author: Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, FACSM

A 60-year-old woman with type 2 diabetes and no serious health complications began an exercise program as part of a research study. It involved doing an hour of moderate aerobic exercise three days per week in a supervised setting (at a local Y). She showed up to all the training sessions, stating about a month into the 12-week training program that she was so happy to be active again, that she felt so much better physically and mentally and felt like she had “found herself” again.

After her participation in the study ended, she was given an additional three-month membership to the Y to exercise on her own. A couple of months later, the researcher ran into her again and asked her how her unsupervised exercise was going. She replied that although she had continued to work out, it was not as frequently as before, and she had no plans to renew her Y membership once she had to pay for it herself. In other words, she already was planning to “lose herself” again once her workouts were on her own time and her own dime.


The researcher encouraged the woman to make an appointment with a member of the research team to talk about her physical activity options and help her plan out a reasonable schedule for the coming months. At that meeting, she stated she could not afford the Y membership and its location was not that convenient for her anyway.

Instead of letting the woman drop out of exercising altogether, the team member helped the woman come up with a list of viable alternative activities. She had a senior center nearby her house that offered a variety of classes that she was interested in, and they were offered at a reasonable price. In addition, the team member encouraged her to pick up some inexpensive resistance bands to train in the convenience of her home two or three days per week and showed her basic moves that worked her large muscle groups, including some resistance band exercises and other body-weight-as-resistance ones.

Given all these options to stay active, particularly without the need to venture outside her home on bad weather days, the woman found that she was motivated to be active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week doing a variety of training types. Disaster averted!

Lessons Learned:

  • Don’t assume that patients will continue to exercise on their own after being involved with a supervised training program just because they “know” how to exercise now. Help them find convenient and affordable options for being active most days of the week without supervision.
  • Discuss their unique barriers to being physically active, potentially including a lack of time, inconvenient exercise facilities, cost, lack of child care, inclement weather, injuries, and health issues. Once they have identified their barriers, help them list options to overcome those participation obstacles.
  • Help patients always have a “Plan B” when it comes to being active. If one activity is not feasible on any given day, have them substitute another. If all else fails, spending more time standing and taking more daily steps will increase their daily movement and help with diabetes management and weight control.

Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, FACSM
Diabetes Motion Expert: www.shericolberg.com

Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, is the author of The Athlete’s Guide to Diabetes: Expert Advice for 165 Sports and Activities (the newest edition of Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook), available in February 2019. She is also the author of Diabetes & Keeping Fit for Dummies. A professor emerita of exercise science from Old Dominion University and an internationally recognized diabetes motion expert, she is the author of 12 books, 28 book chapters, and over 400 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).

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