We all know exercise is good for diabetes. But diabetes can make it hard to get moving. Here are some ways to move you might like and may not have thought of.
First, you should know that not liking exercise is a normal part of Type 2 diabetes. It’s probably part of the gene pattern that sets you up for the disease, the same genes that tend to make you fat. These genes are energy savers. They’re the ones that helped your ancestors survive when calories were hard to get, the so-called “thrifty genes.” They tell you to eat a lot and not move any more than you have to, so you won’t starve.
These genetic habits from hunter-gatherer days don’t match our modern calorie-rich society. Now we need to move. Fortunately, bodies can change their habits. When you move more, your metabolic rate will pick up and your sugars may come down.
Your genes are the first barrier, but society has built many more obstacles to activity. Most places, you pretty much have to drive wherever you go. Things are too far away or roads aren’t safe to cross. Public transit is better than driving, but buses don’t always get you where you want to go. Some buildings now don’t let you use the stairs. They’re locked or blocked; you have to take the elevator.
Some places you might want to run or walk through aren’t safe. You have to worry about crime or cars or wild dogs or excessive heat. It just makes more sense to drive.
At the same time, things keep getting more convenient and requiring less activity. We used to say, “put down the remote, get up and change the channel yourself.” On most modern devices, that’s difficult or impossible. We’re stuck with the remote. Kids used to play basketball; now they play video basketball. Meanwhile, our bodies are starving for movement.
I wrote about this phenomenon in my diabetes book. Barriers to movement are a form of oppression, really, keeping us unfit and sick. How to overcome those barriers?
Fitness coach Michael Rutherford suggests:
• Parking farther away from your destination to walk a few hundred feet.
• Getting a dog; you’ll have to walk him.
• Taking stairs instead of elevators if your building allows. If it doesn’t, maybe ask the boss if the situation can be changed.
• Walking or riding a bicycle instead of driving for errands and short trips.
• Standing or squatting at your desk sometimes instead of sitting. You might have to get a standing desk — they have them — but “sitting is the new smoking.” It’s really bad for you.
• Install a pull-up bar in a doorway and pull yourself up when you walk under it.
• Every hour, get yourself up from what you’re doing and stretch, walk, or do something else physical.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends having an exercise machine like a stationary bike at home and using it while watching TV. Other exercise machines, such as rowers, cross trainers, and treadmills, can be fun too.
More from the AHA: Sit to watch TV; don’t lie down. Stand to talk on the phone; don’t sit.
It’s not all about walking or machines. Consider stretching or yoga to start your day. You’ll have less pain, more flexibility, and it counts as exercise. Strengthening exercises are also great for diabetes.
Water exercise feels fabulous because there’s less impact on your feet and knees and more support for your body from the water. Most YMCAs and pools have shallow and deep-water classes.
To me, enjoyment is the most important exercise advice. We want to enjoy life. If you want to have fun, move your body!
• Dance. Ballroom, rock-and-roll, line dancing, or whatever. Dance gets you social contact, movement, and fun. It might even help your brain function.
• Play with pets. Dogs are great runners, walkers, and wrestlers, but cats and other pets like to play, too.
• Play with children. I had a 70-year-old client who had custody of her 10-year-old developmentally disabled grandson. He had a bad habit of running away, and caring for him kept her too busy to exercise. We came up with a plan. They walked a short distance to a fenced-in basketball court near their home, and she shot baskets, her favorite when she was a kid, while he ran around. It was great bonding for both of them, and he got interested in shooting baskets too. Littler kids have their own ways to get you moving.
• Play ball! Balls are fun: Knock a ball against a wall, that’s handball. Bounce a ball, that’s basketball. Kick a ball, that’s soccer.
Perhaps you can think of other ways to make movement fun. Can housework be fun? Can yard work? The American Heart Association says it all counts as movement. Don’t feel you have to start with hours of exercise. The first step is the most important. What you’re trying to do is build a movement habit. If your body starts liking to move, you will solve many of your diabetes problems.
The American Diabetes Association has a good page on getting started with movement at here.
There’s often more than meets the eye to why we do the things we do. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn how to identify the real reasons behind your behaviors from former therapist Scott Coulter.