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Exercise and Diabetes: Motivation to Get Fit

Terri Malecek, RN, CNS
ACMC-Marshall, Diabetic Education

Exercise plays an important role in staying healthy and fit. For those with pre-diabetes or diabetes, it's vital to everyday health.

The American Diabetes Association and the American Association of Diabetes Educators recommend people with diabetes get 150 minutes of purposeful activity a week or 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least five days a week. Moderate intensity means you are working hard enough that you can talk, but not sing, during the activity. Think walking, biking, gardening, yard work, housework or playing with kids. Activity should be above and beyond what your normal routine already consists of. Exercise provides a number of benefits, including:

  • improving a person's insulin resistance (which reduces blood glucose values)
  • changing how the liver processes glucose and fat
  • improving blood pressure and lipid profiles, which increases "good" HDL cholesterol
  • builds muscles and burn calories to help lose or keep off weight
  • improve sleep patterns
  • improve emotional health and reduce depression

Just knowing the benefits exercise offers may not provide enough motivation to get you moving. How can you get and stay motivated?

  1. Mix it up. Everyone gets bored if they go through the same-old exercise routine. Change your setting or increase your intensity. Joining a class or trying a new activity may be just what you need to recharge your battery. Mixing it up is also beneficial because it challenges new muscle groups. Combining aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening activities and stretching is the most effective way to reduce diabetes symptoms through exercise. Strength training can make your body more sensitive to insulin and often will lower blood glucose
  2. Get the family involved. Help your kids develop healthy habits at a young age by making exercising a family affair. You won't want to skip exercise when your kids are looking up to you. You need to set a good example for your children as they are at risk for diabetes, too. Plus, you'll have fun as a family in one of the healthiest ways possible.
  3. Take note of how exercise is benefiting you. There's no doubt exercise can make you feel better—helping you get fit and even lose weight if you stick to a consistent workout plan and eat healthy. Even exercising for 10 to 20 minutes can lower your blood glucose levels within two to 72 hours.
  4. Set a goal and stick with it. Exercise should be spread over a minimum of three nonconsecutive days per week. Aim to never miss more than two days in a row and exercise five days a week. Marking the days you workout on a calendar to help hold yourself accountable. If you notice on the calendar you have missed two days in a row, then you know on the third day you need to do something so you can mark it on your calendar and to reach your goal.

Getting Started

If you're just beginning your workout routine, start slow and work your way in to more intense exercise sessions. Over time your fitness will improve and you'll find that it is easier to do more and increase your intensity. It's a good idea to consult a health care provider before beginning an exercise routine especially if you have complications from diabetes like heart disease, high blood pressure, peripheral neuropathy or other diabetes complications.

Regular physical activity is important for your overall health and wellness—whether you have pre-diabetes, type I diabetes or type II diabetes. Your health care team can help you establish an appropriate physical activity routine enhanced with proper nutrition.