Tips for Becoming and Staying Physically Active

I don’t need to remind you that having diabetes (or any chronic condition, for that matter) is hard. It’s said that having diabetes is pretty much like having a full-time job, given everything you’re supposed to do to manage it. And that’s all on top of your “other” life, which probably includes working, going to school, taking care of family, chores, and maybe trying to fit in some fun time, too.

When you have too much on your plate, it’s natural that things slide. For some people, it’s keeping up with healthful eating. For others (and this probably includes a fair number of folks), it’s exercise. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to skip the walk at lunch because of work deadlines, or to forgo the yoga class because you have to stop by the grocery store. And, let’s face it: Sometimes you’re just too tired to move.

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Motivation and physical activity
I’ve always wondered what drives people to exercise. Running in a snowstorm or getting up super early to work out is admirable, but what drives people who do this? And why don’t other people do the same (including myself, I should add)? Interestingly, it’s not as simple as telling yourself to “Just Do It,” as Nike might have us believe. Sure, some people have that determination, but as it turns out, there’s a lot of behavioral science behind motivation and physical activity. Here are a few things that I’ve learned.

• Men are more active than women. And being overweight or obese makes it more likely a person will not stick with a physical activity regimen.

• Self-efficacy — a person’s confidence in her ability to achieve specific results — is the main factor linked with adherence. In other words, the more confident you are that you can start and stay with an exercise plan, the more likely you’ll carry it through.

• For women, self-worth plays a role, too. So, if you believe that you can exercise, you’re more likely to do it.

• Research shows that consistent exercisers aim to be healthy, and they make time in their schedules to exercise. They believe that exercise makes them feel good and that they are worth the time.

• Support for being physically active is important. Whether it’s from a spouse, a friend, or a workout group, support from others (kind of like your own personal cheering squad) can keep you going. That’s why group classes, or walking or biking clubs, for example, can be so helpful.

• Environment is key. Having access to, say, a gym or a personal trainer definitely helps with adherence. Even having a place to go walking helps.

On the flip side, people are more likely to be an exercise “dropout” if:

• They have unrealistic expectations — for example, expecting to lose a large amount of weight in a short period of time.

• They smoke.

• They have low self-esteem and low self-efficacy (“I can’t do this”).

• They have a poor body image (“I’m too heavy and everyone is looking at me”).

• They choose a type of physical activity that perhaps isn’t the best choice for them. For example, walking may not be the best choice of activity for someone with diabetic neuropathy in his feet.

• Being physically active leads to frequent low blood sugars for them.

Boost your motivation mojo
You probably don’t need to be told how important being physically active is when you have diabetes. Knowing this generally doesn’t motivate people, though. Your motivation needs to come from within, and unfortunately, others typically can’t do the motivating for you. But there are a few tried and true tips that can and do work.

• First, make sure it’s safe for you to start an activity program. Talk with your doctor or diabetes educator. You may need special tests, such as a stress test or eye exam, for exercise “clearance.”

• Think about what may appeal to you — walking with a friend, joining a bicycling group, taking a dance class, or working out at home with an exercise video. There’s no one right way to be active.

• Set goals for yourself. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active, start low and go slow. So, for example, go for a 10-minute walk, five days a week. Then, build up to 20 minutes, then 30. Maybe even set a goal to walk or run in a 5K race. Check out the app called C25K (couch to 5K) if you foresee a 5K in your future.

• Pick an exercise that you enjoy (or, at least, can tolerate).

• Learn how to manage your diabetes around physical activity. Don’t let swings in blood sugars sideline you. You may need to adjust your diabetes medication and/or your eating plan. And remember that checking your blood sugars regularly before and after exercising is important.

• Make time to be active and then schedule in your activity. It’s too easy to forgo activity unless you block out time in your day to make it happen.

• Find someone to be active with. If that proves to be a challenge, let someone — or maybe a bunch of people — know that you’re aiming to be active, and then tell them what you did. Maybe post your achievements on Facebook or tweet them out on Twitter. Getting support and encouragement can keep you going.

• Banish the black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking. There will be times when you may not have time to go for your 60-minute walk or get to your ballroom dancing class. Not all is lost. Do even a little bit of something. Walk for 10 minutes, climb the stairs, or pick up a resistance band to give your arms and legs a workout.

• Have a plan B. If it’s raining out and going for a walk or a bike ride is out of the question, then what? Make sure you have a backup plan, such as walking at the mall, or hopping on your exercise bike.

• Reward yourself. For some people, noticing how good they feel after a workout is reward enough. If that won’t cut it, give yourself an external reward: Buy yourself some new workout clothes, an exercise DVD, or treat yourself to a few sessions with a personal trainer. Rewards don’t have to cost money. Treat yourself to a well-deserved nap or time spent reading a juicy novel.

• Keep a journal. Studies show that “self-monitoring,” or keeping a record of both food intake and physical activity, helps people in their weight-loss efforts. Monitoring your physical activity also helps you to measure your progress, identify barriers, and (hopefully) fuel your motivation to keep going. Tracking your activity using an app can be a big help, too. Try an app like MyFitnessPal. Or invest in a fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit, a Garmin, or a Misfit. There are plenty of apps that provide workout routines and workout music to keep you going.

What keeps you motivated to be active? Share what works for you…it might help others get and stay active, too!

Amy Mercer doesn’t believe in “meant to be,” and her being a mom with Type 1 diabetes is proof. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to read more.