Exercising During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Exercising During COVID

It’s an understatement to say that life has certainly been different this year. Hopefully you haven’t had the COVID-19 infection, but maybe someone you know has had it. Perhaps you are working remotely or have lost your job. Socializing with family and friends is different, too. And it’s probably safe to assume that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted how you have been managing your diabetes.

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One of the diabetes self-care behaviors that has likely taken a “hit” this year is physical activity. Perhaps going to the gym or walking with friends has gone by the wayside. Financial concerns, increased stress, and even worsening depression are other reasons that may have thrown you off your usual physical activity regimen. And now that winter is just about here, the inclination is to hunker down and hibernate, further decreasing the chances of staying active.

Why be active?

For many people (diabetes or no diabetes), the thought of aiming to fit physical activity into their day is much less of a priority at this time. Stocking up on groceries, figuring out how to pay for medicine and supplies, social distancing and budgeting money tend to be first and foremost on people’s minds. But now is exactly the time to stick to and even start a physical activity routine. Physical activity and exercise provide a number of benefits, both short term and long term. Here’s a look at some of the immediate benefits of being active:

Immediate benefits of physical activity

· Reduced feelings of anxiety and stress

· Better sleep

· Lower blood pressure

· Lower blood sugars

· Improved mood

· Clearer thinking

· Increased self-esteem

· Fun (yes, really!)

With everything that is going on now, we can all reap the rewards of being active and feel better right away. But the shorter-term health “perks” of getting up and moving don’t end there. Physical activity provides longer-term, sustained health benefits that can improve your quality of life and even help you live a longer life!

Long-term benefits of physical activity

These include:

· Stronger bones and muscles

· Ability to do your daily activities and decrease the risk of falls

· Lower risk of heart disease and high blood pressure

· Lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes

· Improved insulin sensitivity

· Improved glucose and A1C levels

· Stronger immune system

· Lower risk of certain cancers, including breast, colon, bladder, kidney and lung cancers

· Less weight gain/weight maintenance

· Better brain health, such as improved memory and cognition

· Lower risk of dementia

· Less depression

While being physically active doesn’t necessarily prevent you from getting COVID-19, studies show that regular, moderate-intensity exercise supports your immune system, helping you to fight off infections that may include COVID-19.

Getting and staying active

One of the hardest parts about doing just about everything is getting started. This is certainly true for starting an exercise program, especially in the midst of a pandemic. It’s not uncommon to automatically throw up barriers to why you can’t or shouldn’t be active. Let’s take a look at things that can get in the way — and how you can overcome them.

Overcoming barriers

Lack of time

Life is busy for many people, yet, some of the busiest people manage to squeeze in time to exercise or be active. How?

· Schedule it. Take a look at your week ahead and look for time slots — even 10 minutes — when you can do some activity. Use a calendar or even a sheet of paper to indicate when and how often you’ll do some form of activity. The goal is to aim for 150 minutes of activity each week — challenge yourself to find ways to fit them in (you can do it!).

· Prioritize it. We all make time to sleep, work, clean, go grocery shopping, keep medical appointments…why not make time for physical activity?

· Do it early. The day can easily get away from you, so plan to do exercise shortly after you wake up for the day. Being active in the morning gets your blood sugar levels off to a good start, too.

· Multitask. If catching up on the day’s news is a must, position your stationary bike in front of the TV or use hand weights or resistance bands. You can even march in place!

Boredom or discomfort

Being active doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym or doing countless sit-ups. Remember, the goal is to be active.

· Come up with activities you might like. It could be going out for a walk, maybe with your partner or a neighbor. Investing in a piece of exercise equipment might appeal to you. Treadmills are an option, as are exercise bikes. If you like music, turn on some tunes and dance!

· Exercise shouldn’t hurt. It’s normal to have some soreness or achiness after being active (those area signs of mild inflammation or microtears in your muscles). But true discomfort or pain isn’t normal and is a warning to stop. You might also be limited in the type of activity that you do if you have certain diabetes complications, such as neuropathy or peripheral arterial disease. Check with your doctor or even a physical therapist for activities that are safe and comfortable for you to do.

· Switch it up. You’re more likely to stick with your exercise routine if you add variety. For example, go walking when the weather is nice, but use an exercise video on cold or rainy days.

Staying motivated

Life’s demands can throw off anyone’s resolve to stay active — other things can get in the way, such as work or illness. Plus, if you are hunkering down at home or even quarantined, the isolation and stress of the situation can quickly thwart your plans to stick to your physical activity routine. Before you know it, you’ve stopped being active altogether. Here’s how NOT to let that happen.

· Don’t overdo it. Sometimes people lose their motivation when they’ve been doing too much physical activity or pushing themselves to the point of exhaustion. Ease up a little on the duration or intensity of your workouts if this is the case.

· Set targets for yourself. Telling yourself, “I’ll walk more” really isn’t useful. Be more specific: When? Where? How long? How often? Then, write your plan down and track your progress. Try a fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit or a smartphone app. Find app suggestions here.

· Get support. If you find yourself binge-watching The Crown rather than getting your steps in, enlist the help of a trusted family member or friend to coach you and remind you of your goals. Consider a little friendly competition, too — who can get the most steps?

· Keep tabs on your blood sugars. Checking your blood sugar before and after your activity session can be motivating, especially when you see it heading down (remember to keep treatment for low blood sugar handy if you take insulin or pills that can raise the risk of hypoglycemia).

Other options

If you’re feeling derailed with your physical activity goals because of the quarantine, you’re not alone. What can you do if you can no longer swim laps at the local pool or attend your weekly yoga class? Don’t give up — find other options to help keep you active.

· Work out virtually, either with a friend or using a streaming exercise class or You Tube video.

· Plan to stand up and move every 30 minutes during your day, especially when you are working or watching TV.

· If you have stairs nearby, make a point to climb a few flights during the day.

· Get outside as much as possible, unless you are in quarantine.

· Set up a workout area in your home. You don’t need fancy equipment. Invest in some resistance bands or inexpensive hand weights. Bring your laptop or tablet to your home “gym” and use that area to workout with an exercise video. Include a chair if you need to do seated exercises.

· Consider using an exercise ball in place of your desk chair periodically; an exercise ball can help strengthen your “core” muscles. Here are some tips for choosing the right size exercise ball

· Look into ways that you can squeeze in activity even if you are tied to your desk! Look into a foot bicycle or foot elliptical. Check out other exercises you can do at your desk here.

Finally, go easy on yourself. This has been a stressful year for everyone in more ways than one, and everyone is out of their usual routine. If you get off track or just need a break, no worries. Tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to start again.

Want to learn more about exercising at home? Read “Home Workouts” and “Home Gym on a Budget” Want to learn more about managing during the coronavirus pandemic? Read “Coronavirus and Diabetes: A COVID-19 Update,” “Healthy Eating During Hard Times” and “COVID-19: Staying Safe at Work.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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