June 2021: COVID-19 Turned My Exercise Routine Upside Down

June 2021: COVID-19 Turned My Exercise Routine Upside Down

Christel OWhen people ask me how the COVID-19 pandemic changed my daily life, my answer is: “not much, and yet, it’s a completely different life.”

Before the pandemic, I was already working remotely, running my websites DiabetesStrong and DiabeticFoodie, and coaching clients, so there was little impact on my work life. However, after we began social distancing, the most significant impact was that my exercise and social routines were taken away. Before COVID-19, I’d get up in the morning, walk my dog and then head to the gym five or six days a week. It was my playtime, my time to tune the world out and move my body, and my time to think.

Then the gyms in Los Angeles, where I live, closed. My social life also changed dramatically, as going to diabetes meet-ups, dancing, and dining out with my husband or friends came to a halt.

How I established a new fitness routine
Establishing new routines can be challenging! According to a 2009 study, it takes 66 days on average to establish a new habit or routine. So even with the best intentions, establishing new routines will require work and perseverance, and I struggled to establish a new workout routine.

I've worked as a fitness professional for years, I coach others in establishing healthy routines, and most importantly, I enjoy exercise. But the reality is that for the first four months after my gym closed in March of 2020, I failed miserably at establishing a new workout routine. And not only was my mental health suffering, so was my diabetes management, as exercise has always been a significant component of how I manage my diabetes.

I didn't succeed in establishing a new workout routine until I started applying the principles I teach others to my own situation. These principles are valid for establishing any routine, not just exercise routines:

  1. Base new routines on positive motivation.
  2. Establish a tangible framework for implantation.
  3. Find joy in what you do.

Positive motivation should always be the underlying reason why you want to establish a new routine. Most people are really good at finding negative motivation (i.e., I'm a failure if I don't do it, fear of diabetes complications, weight gain, etc.). In contrast, positive motivation (i.e., this makes me happy, I love feeling strong, it makes a living with diabetes easier, etc.) can require a bit more work to identify.

Establishing an exercise routine
Positive motivation: My positive motivation for establishing a new exercise routine is how good exercise makes me feel mentally and physically and how much it benefits my daily diabetes management. For others, it might be the social aspect of exercising in a group setting (even if it's virtual or adhering to social distancing guidelines), being physically fit enough to play with your kids or grandkids, or just the pure joy of movement.

Tangible framework: My favorite method for establishing a framework for success is simply scheduling the weekly workouts in a paper or electronic calendar. See it as a meeting with your boss. You're the boss, and you won't cancel on your boss! Other ways can be to sign up for online classes a week ahead or make workout dates with a friend (works for virtual dates as well). Anything that you perceive as a commitment.

Joy!: There has to be some level of joy associated with your new routine, or you will have difficulty succeeding. If you struggle to define why the routine would give you joy, try to revisit your positive motivation. Or maybe the routine needs to be tweaked. One of the reasons I failed at establishing my new workout routine was that the workouts I had access to at home weren't bringing me joy. I had to spend some time finding a workout that I could do at home that I also enjoyed. Once I did, the routine started to form.

Establishing new routines can be challenging for everyone. And it can be even more challenging when you live with diabetes. But once your new routine is established, it can make your diabetes management a little more predictable and hopefully a little easier.


Christel Oerum is a Los Angeles-based speaker, writer, diabetes coach, and diabetes advocate. She has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1997 and, at an early stage, decided that it wasn’t going to slow her down. Her motto is “there is nothing you can’t do with diabetes.” She writes about how to be Fit With Diabetes on DiabetesStrong and great food on DiabeticFoodie. She also coaches people with diabetes from across the globe, online and in-person, and supports them in meeting their health and fitness goals. Find her at the DiabetesStrong Facebook page and on Instagram at @diabetesstrong_ig.