Cross-training for diabetes patients offers many benefits, as it does for those without diabetes.
By Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, FACSM
If you’re like a lot of other people, you may get bored doing the same physical activities day after day. More than half of people who start exercise training programs drop out in the first six months. So, what you do to keep your workouts fresh sometimes matters more for getting the most out of training and staying with it. For these reasons (and more), you may want to consider doing cross-training.
Cross-training covers a lot of ground, including combining different types of activities (like cardio and resistance training) in one workout, doing both during the week, or including other types of training in your routine. For example, you may want to do a variety of activities on a weekly basis. For example, you can walk on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday but swim on Tuesday and take dance classes on Saturday.
Cross-training is recommended because it:
- Uses several different activities to help you reach your exercise goals
- Adds variety to your workouts
- Helps fight insulin resistance
- Leads to lower doses of diabetes medications for many people
- Gives you flexibility in your program (for example, substituting indoor machines for outdoor walking if it’s raining outside)
- Reduces injuries because you don’t repeat the same movement all the time
- Minimizes boredom because you’re always changing up your exercises
- Uses different muscles so more of them get the benefit of exercise training
- Makes your daily activities easier on your joints and body
- Keeps your body challenged to adapt and improve in different ways
- Allows you to rest some muscles so they can recover from workouts without stopping you from exercising altogether on other days
- Helps you develop new exercise skills and proficiencies
What cross-training ensures above all else is the ability to continue being active for the rest of your life and more motivated to move your body. Nothing is worse than getting sidelined from your regular training due to overuse or acute injuries caused by being active. Constantly stressing your body in the same way can lead to tendinitis in joints, bursitis, tendon ruptures, muscle tears and pulls, and possibly acute injuries. Each activity you do stresses your muscles and joints differently, so doing a variety lowers your chances of getting an injury.
In addition, cross-training helps you deal with any activity-related injuries without losing all your conditioning while waiting for the injury to heal. If you have lower leg pain, you can still work out your upper body doing other activities and vice versa. Try to alternate weight-bearing activities like walking with non-weight-bearing ones (for example, swimming and stationary cycling) to avoid injuring another part of your body while waiting for an existing injury to heal.
You also add variety to your exercise program when you include activities like walking, cycling, rowing, swimming, arm cycling, weight training, aerobic classes, yoga, and more. You have more flexibility to choose different options based on your time constraints, the weather, and other factors. Mixing up your activities allows you to work a variety of muscles. Each activity recruits either different muscles altogether or the same ones in different patterns; regardless, you experience a wider use of the muscles in your whole body.
Many people do find that when they engage in a variety of activities — some of them more enjoyable to them than others — they’re more willing to put up with the ones they don’t like just to be able to do the others on alternate days. So, in addition to making your workout routines more enjoyable, cross-training can help you fend off the boredom that’s more likely to pop up when you really don’t like doing activities you feel forced to do.
Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, is the author of Diabetes & Keeping Fit for Dummies, as well as Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook—currently being revised and published as The Athlete’s Guide to Diabetes in February 2019. She is Professor Emerita of Exercise Science from Old Dominion University and an internationally recognized diabetes motion expert. The author of 12 books, 27 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).