Quick! Get on Your Bottom and Exercise!

Exercise, they tell us. Take a walk. Ride a bike. It’s good for your diabetes control and helps you lose weight.

Exercise, says Karen Kemmis, PT, DPT, CDE at Joslin Diabetes Center in Syracuse, NY, an affiliate of the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University,


lowers your blood sugar, increases muscle mass, and, because muscles burn more calories than fat, your metabolism gets boosted. The more muscle we have, the more calories we burn every minute of our lives.

But what about those of us with physical limitations? Dancing is out — maybe. Jumping rope is out. All-out, hard-core Zumba is definitely out. But there are things we can do.

And, no, dancing is definitely not out, she says. If you can’t boogie on your feet, do it in your chair. There are DVDs especially for people with limitations, which feature chair dancing. Or, Kemmis says, it can be a regular exercise DVD, “but sit…and modify your movements.”

Swimming used to be impossible for me. That is, I know how to swim, and getting into a pool is easy — you can fall into a pool — but, with one leg, getting out was problematic. Until, that is, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) said public-access pools had to have lifts so people with physical limitations could get in and out of the pool.

Pools subject to the law, which took effect in March 2012, include public pools, as well as those found in hotels, school districts, park districts, health clubs, gyms, spas, and homeowner associations.

Because of an accident involving a good friend of mine when I was a teenager, I’m not overly fond of swimming, but I am looking forward to indulging in May when I’m on a cruise. The ship does have a lift at one pool. I checked.

If your knees aren’t in great shape, you might want to try an elliptical trainer for an impact-free cardiovascular workout. Elliptical trainers, or crosstrainers, are relatively new, coming onto the market in the 1990’s. They simulate stair climbing, walking, or running, but with minimal impact. Those with handles to push and pull can provide a total-body workout.

Steppers, anyone? That’s the exercise equipment that simulates stair climbing. But you don’t want a regular stepper: You want a recumbent stepper. “You sit on a chair and put your foot on the pedals,” Kemmis says. “It supports your back and supports your foot.” Her mother works out on a recumbent stepper, Kemmis says.

Steppers come with handles to provide an upper-body workout, too. “The handles on [her mother’s] unit are only accessible from the standing position, so the aide who works with her put jump ropes that she can reach to.”

Check out a recumbent stepper here.

Those machines can frequently be found at fitness facilities. Unlike several years ago, when belonging to a facility could cost a good chunk of money, Kemmis said some can be found today that cost only $10 a month.

One thing a fitness facility may offer is a personal trainer, who is definitely more than $10 a month, but you could arrange to meet with the trainer for a couple of sessions to learn some things you can do at home.

If you’ve had physical/occupational therapy in the past, Kemmis says to tell your doctor, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner you’d like to see the person for an update. Your insurance should pay for those sessions.

Don’t forget strength training, which gives you those muscles that burn extra calories. That’s something a personal trainer can help you with. You can also use things around the house, such as canned goods, for weights.

“I was in a sporting goods store and found a kit with an elastic band and a DVD with exercises to do,” Kemmis says.

If you haven’t been active for a while, don’t expect to start out going full speed. After one week in the hospital last summer, it took me about two months to get back to where I was before the stay to be able to transfer to and from my scooter as I had before. I had to use a transfer board for the first time in years, and I worked out some other ways to transfer, but it was good to finally get back up to speed. I was even so weak I couldn’t get into the van: The seat was too high. We had to trade one of the children for a car for a while.

The thing is that I worked myself back up to where I was. I had to in order to get around. Maybe I should think of all physical activity as a “have to” and get with the program.

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  • Ferne

    Thank you, Jan, for that article. It is what I needed and I appreciate so much you hearing what we need from your last article. I also think it’s great that you took the time to answer a comment with a personal email. You are truly interested in all of us.

  • Clifford Schoone

    This sounds like the information I have been seeking. I am a caregiver for my diabetic wife, Vickie, who suffered a stroke in March, and is currently recuperating, while attending weekly PT sessions. She gets exercise on a wheelchair accomodating bike, which she rides for 20 minutes at a rate of 1.5 miles per ride, which may not be enough to significantly raise the heart rate, and she occasionally exercises on a step unit, similar to the recumbent stepper shown. She was not much as a swimmer before the stroke and does not move well in the wheelchair (chair dancing). Her left arm and leg are just getting to the point of walking, although the arm is weak. Do you have other advice for her? I would appreciate any advice you may have on this. Most other diabetic counselors do not have the stroke experience as well.
    Thanks. Cliff Schoone.

  • jim snell

    Excellent article and introspective comment. Exercise is key and critical but what to do when you have physical disabilities.

    After my stroke; I could initially only walk around the nursing quarters on the rehab floor once. Once at home it took months to walk around the 1/4 mile circle of the condo park till where I could do 1 mile and then drop the walker. Today I walk 1.5 to 2 miles.

    Suffice to say it ain’t easy but exercise one must as best you can. One has to burn those calories off.

    Happy holidays, best wishes, Jan

  • Judy

    Thank you Jan. At 72, with two bad knees, diabetes II, a weight problem and a million excuses for NOT exercising….you’ve succeeded where others have not, to make me see what a disservice I am doing to myself by not getting ON my butt and doing something! Even with those bad knees I am fortunate to be able to walk with them! I promise to stop being a crybaby and use your example to inspire me. Thank you.