Staying Fit

The latest on what you minimally need to do.

Sheri Colberg-Ochs By Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD

How much and what types of exercises do you need to do to reach an acceptable minimal level of fitness? Apparently, things have changed since 1995, when we were all supposed to do 20 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three to five day a week. According to updated physical activity guidelines released jointly by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) in August 2007, all healthy adults ages 18 to 65 years should now engage in the following: moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for at least 30 minutes on five days each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for at least 20 minutes on three days each week.

In addition, these guidelines state that adults will benefit from performing activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance for at least two days each week. You should do all of these planned activities in addition to routine, light-intensity activities of daily living, such as self care, casual walking or grocery shopping, or any physical activities that last less than 10 minutes like walking to the parking lot or taking out the trash.

The ACSM and AHA also released separate, updated recommendations for adults over 65 or anyone between 50 and 64 years old with chronic conditions or physical functional limitations, such as arthritis, affecting their ability to move or their physical fitness. Older adults should meet or exceed 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week, but more humble goals may be necessary for anyone with physical impairments like arthritic or painful joints. They also recognize that just maintaining functionality is an important benefit when you're older and that maintaining some level of fitness makes it easier to do everyday activities, such as gardening, walking, or cleaning the house.

For older or limited individuals, strength training is especially important to prevent loss of muscle mass and bone strength, and working on your flexibility will additionally help prevent limitations in such activities. Finally, working on maintaining your balance and staying on your feet becomes vital as you age. You'll find some suggestions for both balance and flexibility work in my previous column.

Again, let me remind you again why it's so critical to reach at least these minimal levels of physical fitness. The health benefits are deniable, whether you have diabetes or not. If you exercise regularly, you will have a lower risk for many health problems including heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes (and prediabetes), certain cancers, and other metabolic disorders, particularly those related to insulin resistance. Physical activity is also the key to living long and well with diabetes (according to research and my recent interviews with the longest-living people with diabetes).

The usual health benefits of exercise apply to people with diabetes as well, likely even more so than for people without it. Much of what we commonly attribute to getting older—like muscle atrophy or loss of flexibility in joints—really results from disuse over time. Diabetes, especially when blood sugars are poorly controlled, can cause premature aging, as well as heart disease and other illnesses. Thus, regular exercise can keep you looking and feeling younger for longer and even greatly lower your risk of getting any diabetes-related complications. So, not only can you enjoy your favorite physical activities, but you can also help maintain your long-term health by doing them!

At least one day of rest a week from your structured exercise plan – or at least a day when you do a different activity at a lower intensity – is optimal for muscle repair and will also result in fitness and strength gains, prevention of overuse injuries and overtraining, and sustainable motivation. For example, if you walk almost daily, your day of rest could include a completely different activity, like swimming or aqua aerobics. Feel free to actively engage in unstructured physical activity on your rest day.

Dr. Sheri's Sample Structured Exercise Plan:

Moderate aerobic exercise (your choice) for 30 to 60 minutes, possibly done as two separate bouts of exercise (or two different activities)

Resistance training, plus stretching and unstructured activities

Moderate aerobic exercise for 30 to 45 minutes, with intermittent bouts of higher-intensity work interspersed at frequent intervals ("hard" day), plus some stretching

Easy aerobic exercise or unstructured activities for 45 to 60 minutes ("easy" day)

Resistance training, plus stretching and unstructured activities

Mild to moderate aerobic exercise for 45 to 75 minutes (endurance-building day)

Rest day (unstructured activities only)

Look for more exercise ideas in The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan. Also, pick up my inspirational latest book of interest to anyone with diabetes: 50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes by Sheri Colberg, PhD, and Steven V. Edelman, MD, published in November 2007. For more information on my books or for access to other articles, visit my web site at

Read Sheri's bio here.

Read more of Sheri Colberg-Och's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.


Last Modified Date: July 09, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the benefits that made it cost-effective for me to go with the real healthcare (HSA) plan rather than the phony (HRA) plan is that my company is now covering "preventative" medicines at $0 copay. The formulary for these, as stated by CVS/Caremark (my pharmacy benefits provider), covers all test strips, lancets, and control solutions. I dutifully get my doctor to write up prescriptions for all of my testing needs, submit...
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