Exercise and Diabetes

There's no time like the present to start an exercise regimen.

By Nicole Johnson, MA, MPH

We’ve all seen the signs - skimpy bikini clad women in commercials, coat sections transformed into sunny oasis’ in department stores, weather reports with UV values and pollen counts. You got it, the outdoor season has begun. Most people associate spring/summer as the time to start exercising and get back into the swing of things, but in reality those of us with diabetes know that exercise is a 365-day-a-year commitment. Let’s take advantage of the renewed public obsession with exercise to remind us how to stay on the right track.

Exercise is one of the biggest factors in achieving optimal glucose control and getting our numbers into the appropriate range. In some cases, it may even reverse the symptoms of type 2 diabetes! In most others, exercise is one of the most effective ways to fight and treat the depression and mood struggles that plague people with this condition. Think “runner’s high.” Exercise not only aids in improving self-esteem, but science indicates that it provides a sort of protective barrier to stress and anxiety. People who are active are more likely to cope better, are mentally sharper, and have a greater sense of well-being.

The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) clinical study clearly highlights the benefits of movement. In this trial, of the over 3,200 people who already showed signs of impaired glucose tolerance, those who lost 5-7% of their body weight and walked or engaged in moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day reduced their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 58%. This trial was so successful and the results so clear, it was ended more then a year earlier than expected. The study also showed that those of us who already have diabetes can prevent the onset of complications by incorporating activity into our daily routines.

Exercise also reduces our risk for heart disease, lowers fat and cholesterol levels in our blood, and increases the production of the good (HDL) cholesterol that protects our hearts against heart disease. I recently met a woman with diabetes who said, “the choice is simple – either move now or have your toes fall off later!” How true. Exercise or physical activity is the gateway to life for a person with diabetes. Without it, only devastation can result.

How do we get started?

There are several elements to getting started with a fitness routine. If you have diabetes, regardless of what type, you must first talk to your medical team and assess your fitness level. Your doctor will be able to advise you on where to start and what steps to take to make sure your diabetes is in check during your activity.

I have only one word – preparation. I won’t go into the stories of low glucose reactions at the gym, pool, on the side of the road, etc.

Developing your strategy

1. Set attainable goals

Do you want to lose weight? Are you seeking to elevate your mood? Is exercise a tactic to fight depression? Do you want to lower glucose levels, or are you exercising to relieve stress? You are the only one who can determine what you want to accomplish. For example, every eight weeks or so, I set new fitness goals for myself. Right now I am on a shape-up plan for swimsuit season. However, two months ago I was just trying to have lower glucose levels in the afternoon. Whatever goals make sense for you and your lifestyle are appropriate – just stay away from the overly-aggressive goals (losing vast amounts of weight quickly) and the under achiever trap.

2. Incorporate 2-3 types of exercise that will help you accomplish your goals.

As I just mentioned, the biggest trap in exercise is when your body plateaus and your fitness routine becomes old hat. You need to always change things and challenge yourself. For instance, your fitness goals may not be met by only walking on the treadmill. Most likely, you will need to come up with a variety of routines. My routine includes walking briskly on the treadmill, riding the stationary bike, using the elliptical machine and lifting weights – however, this may change as a result of this article. To confess, I am in a bit of a rut with my exercise plan.

3. Schedule your exercise time.

DON’T THINK YOU ARE GOING TO JUST FIT IT IN WHEN YOU CAN. IT WON’T HAPPEN. This will turn into a perpetual excuse and you won’t exercise. I think we have all been there! I often tell people that I have a meeting or an appointment that I can’t miss. My exercise is important enough to be in my daily schedule on my daily calendar, albeit sometimes my little secret.

If you try scheduling time for exercise and it still doesn’t work, consider these easy tips on incorporating movement into your daily routine:

• Clean and dance. Put on some music and dance while cleaning the house.
• Consider buying some exercise equipment for your home. A treadmill at home is often a blessing. After the kids have gone to bed, you can get in a little time walking.
• What about family walks after dinner?
• Consider walking and talking. Do conference calls from your cell phone and walk while listening. (Don’t forget to put the call on mute – beware of heavy breathing.) If not a conference call, catch up with friends while walking around the block. A headset can be one of your greatest investments!
• Park further away from the entrance to the mall or other shopping stops. Every extra step counts and you won’t waste your time circling for
that front parking spot.
• Take the stairs.
• Wash your own car.

Remember what the DPP said 30 minutes of movement a day helps reduce the risk of diabetes and diabetes complications.

Until next month, I will be walking my way to that cute red swimsuit in Macy’s.

Nicole sig


Each month, Nicole shares her life and experiences as a person with diabetes and gives the dLife community information they too can use to live a healthy life.

Read Nicole's bio here.

Read more of Nicole Johnson'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: November 28, 2012

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

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