Contributor: Kathy Warwick, RD, LD, CDE
Most people have an immediate negative reaction to the word “exercise.” This probably started with an over-zealous high school coach or a well-meaning healthcare provider who insisted that they must exercise in order to manage diabetes more effectively. All humans need to move to maintain strength and balance and to perform daily activities. The more conveniences and labor-saving devices we have in our lives, the less we have to move to accomplish those daily activities. In addition, many of our jobs are now sedentary as compared to the jobs our grandparents performed. We also have 24/7 access to hundreds of television stations and smartphones. In other words, it does take a concerted effort to get out of our desk chairs or off the couch.
Sitting has been deemed the “new smoking”, and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that we break up periods of sitting every 30 minutes. In fact, research shows that going to the gym for a workout at the end of the day cannot undo the damage done by sitting throughout the workday. Many employers are now providing standing desks or treadmill desks for their workers to enable the staff to move more if they remain at a work station all day.
Recommendations for activity for those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are the same as for the general population. We should all get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week, such as walking, swimming, dancing, bike riding, or using an elliptical trainer or a rowing machine at the gym. Experts recommend that we don’t go more than two consecutive days without exercise. This means that 30 minutes, five days a week is adequate for general health. The good news is that the ADA guidelines now say that we can divide this 30 minutes into multiple 10-minute episodes throughout the day. If weight loss is your goal, it may take a total of 60 minutes a day to burn adequate calories or to keep weight off.
In addition to aerobic activities, resistance type exercise such as weight lifting, stretch exercise bands, or strenuous gardening is needed to strengthen muscles and bones on 2 to 3 non-consecutive days a week. Older adults who are at greater risk of falls and frailty need activities that help maintain balance and flexibility such as Tai Chi or yoga.
Guidelines based on reliable research are helpful for clinicians to make appropriate exercise recommendations. However, research suggests that less than half of adults with diabetes actually meet these exercise goals. Recommendations must be individualized and realistic so that busy people can fit activity into their daily lives. It is far more likely that we will meet our goals if we enjoy the activity, so choose body movement that brings you joy or relaxation.
Here are a few ideas to spark your creativity:
- Most of us could grab 10 to 15 minutes of activity with a friend at work on a break or during a lunch hour.
- If you have kids who play sports, use the time while they are practicing to take a walk around the practice field, gymnasium or park.
- Pets are also a great motivator for taking a walk twice a day.
- Having a reliable partner or partners increases the chances that you will develop new exercise habits and stick with them longer.
- Exercise can be a great stress-reduction tool. If you love music, then consider a dance class or a home exercise video with great tunes.
- Park farther away from the shopping center or on the opposite side of the mall from the store you plan to visit.
- Some malls open early in the morning before the shops open for “mall walking.”
- If you are unsteady on your feet or use a wheelchair, there are many great chair exercise programs to choose from.
- Start with 3 to 5 minutes, three times a day and work your way up to 10 minutes 3 times a day.
- While watching a favorite TV show, get up and move or use your hand weights and exercise bands during the commercials.
So Get a Move On!
Kathy Warwick is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with 36 years of experience in several areas of dietetics practice. She is the owner of Professional Nutrition Consultants, LLC in Madison, Mississippi, providing inpatient and outpatient diabetes education, long term care consultation, hospice consultation, wellness program services, media communications, and medical-legal consultation. Kathy is a medical reviewer for Healthline.com.
Kathy speaks regularly to community and professional groups and has presented multiple national webinars. She serves as the Print Communications Chair for the Diabetes Care and Education Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is a Past-President of the Mississippi Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In her spare time, Kathy enjoys her grandbabies, gardening, caring for her chickens, yoga, and a weekly art class.