If you have type 2 diabetes, your doctor may have told you that you should incorporate physical activity in diabetes management. This is because exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease and help regulate blood sugar levels.
The importance of physical activity in diabetes management
When you exercise, your muscles need fuel to support the activity. It takes up sugar (glucose) from the blood which allows you to keep going. When exercise is carried out regularly, insulin (the hormone that allows the body to utilize sugar effectively) becomes more responsive to blood sugar and signals cells to take sugar from the blood.
The America Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends at least 150 min per week of moderate-intensity activity. Combining both aerobic and resistance exercise training into this time frame is more effective for blood sugar control.
For persons with diabetes the thought of adding exercise to a new diet, new medications, and consistent blood glucose checks, can be overwhelming. You may be thinking it is time to join a gym or hire a fitness coach.
But before making these drastic changes, consult your doctor or diabetes educator.
A diabetes educator creates a customized exercise plan that is tailored to your needs. It includes appropriate physical activities, blood sugar target levels, and healthy food recommendations. These are important because your medications and activity levels can put you at risk of dangerously low blood sugar levels.
However, even a detailed plan can be difficult to stick to. So here are 6 tips for sticking with physical activity in diabetes management.
1. Start with small changes
The word exercise can be intimidating – especially if you are just starting off. You may begin to question when you will find the time to exercise, what exercises you can do, and where you can do these activities.
Small behavioural changes that promote physical activity can lead to long term habits being developed. That’s why many organizations use the broader term “physical activity” instead of exercise.
Physical activity covers any bodily movement that causes contraction of the muscles and requires more energy than normal. Therefore, introducing a few small changes in physical activity to your lifestyle can go a long way.
The ADA recommends walking for exercise as a good place to start. If you are not used to being active, start with 10 minutes of walking and slowly increase the time as your fitness level improves.
Some other small changes you can make to increase physical activity are:
- Parking a long distance away from your destination to increase your number of steps
- Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
- Standing for short periods instead of sitting
- Doing stretches or leg raises while watching television
- Taking pets out for a walk
By making these small changes you may notice increased energy levels that can motivate you to do more.
2. Get an accountability partner
Accountability is key when trying to build a habit. An accountability partner can provide support and encouragement to consistently engage in physical activity. Knowing that your willingness to stay committed not only affects you but also your partner makes it difficult to slack off.
Find a friend or relative to hold you accountable. Make a schedule for your exercise days and activities then commit to the process. If you live in the same household, you can plan activities to do together.
However, in light of the ongoing pandemic, having an accountability partner does not mean you have to do physical activities together. You only need to stay connected. Utilize communication tools such as WhatsApp or Facebook groups to check in with your partner daily. Share workouts, results, challenges and check in on each other’s progress.
It is best to select someone who will hold you accountable and push you on the days that you may not be motivated.
3. Find fun activities
Physical activity does not have to be boring. There are many fun activities that can be included in your exercise plan. Aerobic activities such as Zumba, bicycling, or swimming are great options to be added to a routine.
Some studies recommend mild intensity activities such as tai chi and yoga which have been shown to improve blood sugar levels and reduce stress.
You can also step up your everyday tasks into physical activities. Daily tasks like house cleaning, gardening, and grocery shopping can be amplified by listening to upbeat music and intensifying the movements.
Having a variety of activities gives you something to look forward to and an opportunity for a new experience.
Just remember to consult your doctor or diabetes educator before embarking on any major activities.
4. Create a routine
Exercise in a diabetes management plan requires strategy and consistency. Your diabetes management plan may recommend doing physical activities within hours of a meal. This helps to ensure that your blood sugar levels are managed effectively.
A routine will take some time but seeing results can be motivating. Develop a habit of checking blood sugar levels before and after exercise. When you see your blood sugar levels in the target range there will be no turning away from the plan.
Creating a routine will not only help you stick to your plan but also avoid the dangers of hypoglycemia.
5. Set goals
Having a goal gives you something to work towards. Work with your diabetes educator to set achievable goals and track your progress throughout the journey.
Remember diabetes management is a marathon and not a sprint. Smart achievable goals such as target blood glucose levels, weight loss, or medication adjustments are essential to keep you motivated and encourage you to stick to the plan.
6. Reward yourself
Take the time to celebrate your achievements. Reward yourself with a gift when a goal is achieved. Avoid using cheat meals as a reward, instead treat yourself to a self-care product or service, a new piece of clothing, or a new activity to add to your routine.
Whatever you decide, ensure that it makes you feel good about your achievements and does not sabotage your progress.
Make your plan work for you
Your diabetes management plan can only be effective if you make the plan work for you. Annie’s Memorial Chronic Disease Education Center (AMCEC) can help you design a plan that fits your lifestyle. To book your free consultation, click here.