Last week, we delved into some reasons why people aren’t as active as they should be. I hope this didn’t bring up any feelings of guilt or shame. And if you’re one of those folks who know you should do something but have a hard time getting started, maybe you thought a little bit about some of the barriers that keep you from getting off of that couch.
If you’re ready to commit to being more active, great! As the saying goes, the hardest part is getting started. It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed when first starting anything new. And too many people do too much too soon, which can lead to injury and discouragement.
Here’s what the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend for adults (including those with chronic diseases and disabilities) in terms of amount, frequency, and type of exercise:
Amount: At least 150 minutes (that’s 2 hours and 30 minutes) of physical activity per week. Research indicates that activity done at least three days each week results in health benefits.
Intensity: A moderate level of intensity, which would include brisk walking, for example. However, if you’re up for it, you can also aim to do more vigorous-intensity exercise. What’s the difference? Doing two minutes of moderate-intensity exercise has the same benefits as doing one-minute of vigorous-intensity exercise—so, in other words, you don’t need to spend as much time working out if you do so vigorously. How do you know which is which? With moderate-intensity exercise, you should be able to talk—but not sing—while working out. With vigorous-intensity exercise, you wouldn’t be able to say more than a few words without taking (gasping for?) a breath.
Type: Both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise are recommended.
Now that you know how often and for how long you should exercise, it might be helpful to know what counts as aerobic exercise and what counts as muscle-strengthening exercise.
Aerobic: Walking, bicycling, running, jogging, ballroom dancing, water aerobics, jumping rope, swimming laps, playing singles tennis, aerobic dance
Muscle strengthening: Weight-training (with hand weights or dumbbells), calisthenics, using resistance bands, using a medicine ball, using Nautilus machines
It makes sense to get both types of exercise, when you think about it. Aerobic activity burns calories and helps whip your cardiovascular system into shape, whereas strengthening exercises help tone and strengthen your muscles, increase your metabolic rate (so that you can avoid or limit weight gain as you age), increase bone density, and improve balance and stability (so that you’re less likely to fall and break a hip). The goal is to do muscle strengthening exercise on at least two days of the week.
Obviously, if you haven’t been active, it’s probably too much to expect that you will be safely able to do 150 minutes of activity per week right off the bat. You’ll need to start out slowly—maybe even doing just 5 or 10 minutes a day—and gradually build up. You should also talk to your health-care provider about whether you might need a stress test and/or any blood work before you get started, just to make sure you’re good to go! And ask your health-care provider, diabetes educator, or exercise physiologist, if possible, to give you some specific guidelines as to what’s best for you. In other words, ask for an exercise prescription.
If you take insulin or certain types of diabetes pills, you’ll also need to think about preventing hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) during and after exercise. We’ll talk about this next week, and we’ll also look at some ways to sneak exercise into your day-to-day schedule.