Diabetes Network News | Published August 14, 2012 | Written by Amy Leffard, RN, certified diabetes educator, Mount Nittany Health Diabetes Network

Exercise: as important for treating diabetes as medications

Most people with diabetes are concerned about what they can and cannot eat, if they can avoid taking medications to control diabetes (specifically insulin) and how many times a day they need to monitor their blood sugar to have the best life they can while dealing with a chronic condition. A very important part of any diabetes treatment plan is exercise, but this seems to be the hardest thing for people with diabetes to do!

Exercise is frequently thought of as a dirty word or something that isn't achievable. When talking to patients about exercise, most say that they know they should exercise but they just don't. Typical reasons are: lack of time, no energy, access to safe walking areas, physical limitations and just hating exercise. Often, there are solutions and strategies for overcoming all these reasons that people say prevent them from being active.

Here are some tips that might help:

  1. Find something you like to do, making it easier for you to continue for the long term. This may mean trying a few different activities before you find the right one that fits your lifestyle.
  2. Is there something that you enjoyed doing as a child that you could do now? Think of it as play instead of exercise, and you just might feel younger and more energized.
  3. Find a buddy. A friend or a group that exercises with you gives you a chance to interact socially and often you forget that you are even exercising. A pet can also be a good buddy to join you in exercise. It only takes a few times to establish a routine with a dog (and then your pet won't let you back out of the daily activity so easily!)
  4. If time is an issue, try breaking 30 minutes of exercise into two 15-minute segments or three 10-minute activities. Look at your schedule and find wasted minutes that you could turn into exercise time.
  5. If 30 minutes of exercise is too scary because you feel out of shape and know you can't do that much, start small and build up slowly. You can go from 0 to 30 minutes of exercise in one month by starting with one minute of exercise the first day and increasing by one minute every day thereafter. By day 30, you will be able to do the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity! And 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week will keep you in shape and help control blood sugars (not to mention lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, too).
  6. If you are unable to walk or bike due to physical restrictions, weightlifting or chair exercises may be the answer for you. These types of exercises will help build muscle, and that uses glucose for fuel - thus lowering the amount of glucose in the blood.
  7. People with arthritis and bad joints might find swimming and water aerobics a good choice for them, because there is no weight put on the joints to cause pain.
  8. If there are no safe places to walk or bike where you live, look for safe areas that you may frequent regularly. Maybe there's a park or path close to your work or grocery store that you could use before you shop or after work. And if there really are no safe places for you to exercise, get involved in your community and advocate for safe walking/biking paths so we all will be healthier.
  9. Think of exercise as an "activity" - time spent moving your body. You can easily sneak these moments into your routine throughout the day. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking in the back of the parking lot and carrying bags of groceries into the house one at a time will all give you extra steps each day that will add up to big results.
  10. Think of exercise in the same way you would your diabetes medicine. It needs to be taken every day to provide good control. The same goes for exercise - it needs to be practiced regularly to be effective.

Everyone should be physically active to maintain good health. Exercise is especially important if you have diabetes, because it helps cells use sugar in the blood for energy and that means lower blood glucose readings. Talk to your doctor about your exercise plans and "take" the recommended dose faithfully, just as you would your medications.

To learn more about diabetes management, call Mount Nittany Health's diabetes team at 814.231.7095, or visit mountnittany.org.