Diabetes and Fitness: How to Stay Motivated
10 Tips To Starting and Sticking With A Healthy Diabetic Exercise Plan
For someone living with diabetes the importance of a regular fitness routine cannot be overstated. Consistent exercise not only leads to better cardiovascular health and contributes to weight loss, it has also been proven to increase insulin sensitivity, which means a regular fitness regimen just might reduce the dosage of insulin required over time. If you’re currently living with diabetes and don’t yet require insulin injections, being active just might keep you from needing them. At the very least, it can delay your need for insulin treatment.
There is no doubt that moderate activity will have a positive impact on how well your body reacts to insulin, how well you manage blood sugar levels, and how well you live with diabetes. That being said, a recent study conducted by the World Journal of Diabetes found that only about 40% of people living with diabetes engaged in some form of exercise therapy and just over 28% achieved the recommended level of physical activity.
These are not positive numbers, but they are reflective of the simple truth that starting an exercise regimen can be difficult and sticking to one can be even harder. This is particularly true for those who find themselves starting at a point where they are in poor physical condition, overweight, or simply have not been active in recent years.
However, excuses aren’t going to help the situation. If you’re someone living with diabetes you need to develop and maintain a steady activity routine. It is critical to your health and it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it may feel right now.
There are some secrets to getting started and staying motivated that can help keep you on track until you start seeing some pretty great results. Once that happens, sticking with fitness gets a whole lot easier.
Your First Step Is Talking to Your Doctor
Before beginning any fitness or activity routine, it’s important to sit down with your diabetes physician and care team. The last thing you want to do is jump right into a program that’s not right for your needs or that may be too strenuous for your current fitness level.
Your doctor can recommend appropriate exercises or activities and tell you how intense your workout should and should not get. Listen to your doctor because going at things too hard can be dangerous and may even cause your blood sugar levels to drop below your target. This is particularly true if you haven’t been active for some time, which is why talking with your care team is the smart first step to any diabetes exercise program.
10 Tips to Help You Start Right and Keep Going
We’re going to assume that you don’t want to count yourself among the 60% of people living with diabetes who aren’t engaging in any physical activity. What follows are a few tips to help you kick things off right, keep your mojo going strong, and stick to your activity program. Good luck and go for it!
- Start out slow
If you’re currently not in the best shape of your life, trying to pretend you are is a bad idea. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a good fitness program. Start out with reasonable and comfortable activity. In fact, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends you start with a walking program. If it’s been a while since you elevated that heart rate, they say 10 minutes of walking each day is a good launching point. As you become more comfortable you can build up to a brisker pace, add longer intervals, and eventually start including other exercises and activities into your workout. If you’d like a few pointers on starting your own walking plan, check out the ADA’s handy Walking Plan Guide.
- Set ambitious but realistic goals
One of the most exciting aspects of a good diabetes fitness plan is that you will see real progress if you stick to it. Along with gaining better control over your blood sugar, you’re also likely to shed a few pounds and maybe even fit into those outfits that have been hanging in your closet since your skinnier days. However, this won’t happen immediately. Before you begin your diabetes fitness routine, it’s important to remember that fitness is not going to change you overnight. It’s takes time. So go ahead and set those ambitious goals - walking extra miles, reaching a target weight, working in new activities – but make sure you do so with a realistic mindset. If you put in the time and effort, you will get there. Just don’t rush it. Diabetes health is not a sprint. It’s a long-term commitment.
- Do something you enjoy doing
You may have to start with short walks but eventually you’ll be ready to expand your fitness horizons. One of the best tips to sticking with it is to choose activities that you genuinely like doing. If it’s walking that’s great. You can always walk further and faster, plus you can add nature hikes and brisk park walks to keep things interesting. But maybe walking isn’t your thing. Maybe you prefer biking or swimming. Maybe you’re into a sport such as tennis, basketball, or softball. The point is to do something that, more days than not, you know you’ll enjoy doing. There will always be those difficult days that require a little extra self-motivation, but they will be fewer and farther between if you’re doing an activity, you genuinely enjoy.
- Create a formal fitness schedule
Many who fail to stick to a fitness routine fall back on the old excuse that exercise is impossible to fit into their busy schedules. Certainly, finding time can be a challenge, but as someone living with diabetes you don’t really have a choice. So, formally block out a time each day that you can’t-miss, won’t-miss time for activity. Add it to your calendar and treat it like any other important appointment or engagement. You’re not going to miss it.
- Test Your Blood Sugar Before and After Activity
Testing blood sugar using a glucose meter and test strips is a part of most every diabetes care plan. It’s important to test your blood sugar before engaging in any activity to make sure your blood glucose is in the safe range for exercise (usually between 100 and 250 mg/dL). Additionally, testing before and after activity will show you exactly how much overall fitness and specific exercises impact your blood glucose levels. This is important as you may find that your body responds so favorably to exercise it reduces your need for insulin to the point your doctor may be required to adjust your dosage. From a personal standpoint, watching your blood sugar levels go down is great motivation to keep on going with your program.
- Keep a Journal
A journal is an excellent way to see how far you’ve come and be inspired to set some new fitness goals. You can include photos, exercise milestones, track heart rate levels, include dietary influences and other factors. You also absolutely want to log your blood sugar level test readings. Whether you do so in the same journal or keep a separate blood sugar log is up to you. Most leading glucose meters record and store hundreds of blood sugar readings, providing you with a digital log to share with your doctor.
- Reward yourself
There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to a little something special for reaching a fitness milestone. Maybe it’s a healthy sweet snack. Or perhaps you have your eye on a new outfit, a pair of headphones, or some other indulgence. Tie a few attractive rewards to meeting your activity goals and hold yourself accountable for earning them. After all, sometimes it’s the little things that keep us going.
- Workout with a friend
It’s always easier to get motivated when you have someone there to push and support you. It doesn’t have to be a personal trainer shouting in your ear. It can be a brother, sister, best friend, or neighbor who you meet up with for morning walks, bike rides or other activities. If you don’t have someone you can count on to be there every day, try joining an online fitness class where others work out alongside you virtually. It can still be good motivation.
- Prepare in advance
This goes back to the old excuse of finding time. Make it easy on yourself by preparing your workout gear the night before you’re going to use it. This way when that can’t-miss, won’t-miss time for activity that you blocked out arrives, you’ll be ready to get right to it.
- Don’t be too obsessive or hard on yourself
There’s a fine line between holding yourself accountable and beating yourself up when things don’t go exactly as planned. Yes, it is especially important to stick to your fitness routine. However, life is not without its surprises and sometimes things happen that we can’t avoid. Additionally, even doing all the right things doesn’t guarantee you’ll reach that ambitious goal. If you miss a day or two for good reason, or fall a little short of your goal, that’s okay. It’s not the same thing as giving up on your fitness routine. Exercise for diabetes is about working towards better overall health and greater control over your blood sugar. Simply put, it shouldn’t drive you crazy, it should make you feel better.
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