Tips for Getting Started on Your Exercise Program

Simple changes and a little exercise throughout the day add up to major health benefits over time.

Sheri Colberg-Ochs By Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD

When you were last faced with deciding between taking an afternoon nap and going out for a brisk walk, which did you choose? If you took a walk, then you may not need to read this, but if you opted for the nap instead, keep on reading!

You may have heard that an estimated 300,000 Americans die each year from sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits. But did you know that exercise is the best medicine that you will ever come across to prevent this – and, unlike many prescription medications, exercise has no bad side effects? If you have diabetes, physical activity enhances the action of insulin (the hormone that lowers your blood sugar), usually resulting in better blood sugar control. In fact, it is better to be overweight and fit than a lean "couch potato" from a metabolic standpoint because many chronic diseases are related to ineffective insulin action in your body, including heart disease.

Frequent, regular exercise is key to good blood sugar control if you have any type of diabetes. The glucose-lowering effects of exercise are mainly due to a heightened sensitivity to insulin in exercised muscle, an effect that persists for 1-2 days following the activity. In order to maximize exercise's positive effects, you have to exercise regularly. The recommendation for everyone is 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise a minimum of 3 to 5 days per week (walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, etc.). With type 2 and gestational diabetes, daily or near daily activities are better for optimizing blood sugar control and weight maintenance or loss. With type 1 diabetes, regular, scheduled exercise makes blood sugars easier to predict and manage. With regular blood glucose monitoring, you can control your blood sugars with any exercise program, but it's easiest when your activity is regular.

Getting started is simpler than you think. First off, it's important that you realize that all the exercise you accumulate during the day counts. Until recently, vigorous exercise (done at greater than 60 percent of maximal aerobic capacity, like jogging) was thought to be necessary for optimal health and fitness. However, recent studies found that engaging in almost any activity (including golfing, gardening, mowing the lawn, walking, etc.) for 30 to 45 minutes per day is beneficial to health, even if overall fitness is not increased as much. Furthermore, these lower-intensity exercises are beneficial even if done for only 10 minutes at a time.

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Last Modified Date: February 15, 2013

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