Often, starting a workout program for type 2 diabetes isn’t the problem; staying with the routine is. Try these tips from diabetes experts to keep you going strong.
Grabbing a workout buddy can help encourage you to fit in fitness.
There’s no doubt that regular exercise is beneficial for people managing diabetes. At the most basic level, exercise increases insulin sensitivity, research shows, which affects weight and blood sugar levels.
While a pandemic may seem like an inopportune time to start prioritizing physical activity, it’s anything but. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that people with underlying health conditions, including those with diabetes are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, especially among those whose condition isn’t well managed. Thus, there’s no better time to put your health first.
Why Exercise Is Important for Type 2 Diabetes Management
Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas, and your body needs it to deposit glucose, which is the body’s main source of energy, into your cells, says Jill Weisenberger, RDN, CDCES, who’s based in Newport News, Virginia, and is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss — Week by Week. Exercise helps train the body to use insulin better long term, Weisenberger says.
Exercising can be as simple as taking a walk — the trick is continuing to take those steps regularly to help you manage type 2 diabetes. Regular physical activity can help boost your weight loss efforts, and even a small amount of weight loss — just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight — can improve your A1C, according to John Hopkins Medicine.
Regular exercise can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which helps lower your risk of heart disease, says Matthew Corcoran, MD, CDCES, an endocrinologist with Shore Physicians Group in Northfield, New Jersey, and founder of the Diabetes Training Camp in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
How Much Exercise Do People With Diabetes Need?
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), most adults with type 1 and type 2 diabetes need at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise every week, spread over a period of at least three days, “with no more than two consecutive days of inactivity.”
If you’re physically fit and engage in high-intensity or interval trainings, you only need 75 minutes per week, notes the ADA.
It’s also important to incorporate resistance training two to three days a week, with at least one day in between workouts. You should also avoid prolonged sitting by getting up and moving or stretching for a couple of minutes every half-hour.
People with type 2 diabetes who incorporated both aerobic and strength-training exercises into their routine experienced improved blood sugar control after just 12 weeks, according to a study published in February 2015 in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. Participants also reported increased energy levels and improved self-esteem.
How to Stick With Your Exercise Plan
Knowing the many benefits of exercise doesn’t always make it easy to keep up with your workout plan. If you’re having trouble staying motivated, try these seven tips to maintain your momentum and make exercise a permanent part of your diabetes management routine:
- Take Baby Steps When Beginning an Exercise Routine
If you’re a couch potato who suddenly runs 5 miles on your first day of exercise, you’ll be sore on day two — perhaps with blisters on your feet and ready to throw in the towel. Instead, if you’re not used to being active, the ADA recommends starting slowly by walking 10 minutes each day at a comfortable pace. As your fitness levels improve, aim to add three to five minutes to your walking routine each week, until you reach a goal of 30 minutes of brisk walking, five days a week.
- Choose a Physical Activity You Enjoy Doing
You’re also more likely to stick with your exercise plan if it’s fun, invigorating, and suits your abilities. For example, if you don’t enjoy walking on a treadmill, it will be hard to stay motivated to step on it — and stay on it — every day. Yet, if you like walking briskly outside, as long as you have the proper gear for the weather, you’re likely to make time for it every day, Weisenberger says. Trying new activities can also keep fitness fresh and exciting, Weisenberger notes.
- Use the Buddy System to Increase Accountability
Live-stream an exercise class online, and do it with a friend. Having someone to exercise with helps pass the time more quickly and takes your mind off the effort you need to exercise, says Rob Powell, PhD, CDCES, assistant professor within the Department of Exercise Science and the Director of the Diabetes Exercise Center at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, and exercise physiologist at Dr. Corcoran’s Diabetes Training Camp. Pick a buddy who will hold you accountable and encourage you to show up for your exercise session.
- Reward Yourself With Healthy Treats for Breaking a Sweat
Celebrate milestones, such as sticking to your plan for one week, one month, two months, and so on. Just don’t celebrate with food — use it as an opportunity to take your fitness goals to the next level. Treat yourself to an online shopping spree for new workout clothes, sign up for an online boutique fitness class (such as Peloton or obe), or the like.
- Formally Schedule Your Sweat Sessions
Block out the time in your daily planner, especially if you’re prone to letting the day get away from you. Seeing exercise on your daily to-do list reminds you that it’s a priority. If it helps, you can break your exercise routine up into smaller chunks throughout your day. Maybe 10 minutes before work, 10 minutes on your lunch break, and 10 minutes after dinner.
- Prep for Your Workouts a Day in Advance
Lay out your clothes for your morning workout before you go to bed at night — or even sleep in them. You can also pack your gym bag so you can just grab and go when you leave in the morning. “If your gym clothes are stuck in the back of your closet, you’re less likely to reach for them,” Dr. Powell says.
- Check Your Blood Sugar Before and After Exercise
This shows you how much exercise helps to improve blood sugar control. “When you see how your body reacts to different types of exercises and the length and intensity of your workout, it can motivate you to stick with what works,” Weisenberger says. Also, be sure to keep glucose tablets or juice boxes in your gym bag or locker so that you can address an episode of low blood sugar, should it happen while exercising — and stop if you feel shaky or anxious.
One Last Thing on Starting an Exercise Routine for Managing Diabetes
Getting into a regular exercise routine takes patience and determination, but don’t give up. When you start to see results of exercising regularly, you won’t want to stop — and that’s the greatest motivation of all.