Getting more physically active is one of the biggest steps that you can take toward a healthier lifestyle. But what happens after those first few weeks or months of motivation pass? Life becomes busy, as it always does, and your dedication to physical fitness falters. You don’t feel you have the time, energy or, in some cases, finances to maintain this new commitment. So, yet again, your treadmill starts collecting dust, the gym membership goes unused and your running shoes get pushed back to the dark corners of your closet.
So the question is, how do you combat what seems like the inevitable end to your new and improved lifestyle? What can you do to ensure you stay committed to your exercise routine? There are some important and useful tips and resources that you can utilize to stay laser-focused on physical activity and also improve your overall health. The newest resource is literally in the palm of your hand — your smartphone or other device. This is the age of technology for people with diabetes to use these resources for physical fitness, and overall health is improving every day.
Benefits of exercise
It is no secret that physical activity is vital for overall health but, particularly, for people with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports indicate that 84.1 million people have prediabetes, which is one out of every three American adults. And in fact, nine out of 10 individuals with prediabetes don’t even know that they have it. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) clinical study demonstrated that people with prediabetes or at risk for Type 2 diabetes could reduce their risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent by participating in a structured lifestyle change program incorporating weight loss and regular physical activity. An additional 30 million U.S. adults already have Type 2 diabetes, and the positive benefits of weight loss and regular physical activity have long been established for this population as well.
There are multiple exercise and physical activity benefits for those with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. The most important is obviously that exercise improves insulin sensitivity and makes it easier to control blood glucose levels. Whether a person’s elevated glucose is a result of insufficient insulin production or the inability to use insulin effectively (insulin resistance), physical activity will help lower blood glucose levels. In addition to the glucose-lowering effects, regular physical activity has long-term benefits in that it decreases the risk for chronic complications for those with Type 2 diabetes. It helps maintain good cholesterol levels (high-density lipoproteins, or HDL), protects your heart and lowers blood pressure. Last, but certainly not least, regular exercise is essential to weight loss. Weight loss is directly related to a reduction in insulin resistance.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends daily exercise or, at the very least, no more than two elapsed days between exercise sessions. Ideally, people with Type 2 diabetes should perform both aerobic and resistance exercise training for optimal glycemic and health outcomes, according to the ADA. Based on the DPP, individuals with prediabetes or at high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes should get at least 150 minutes per week of physical activity.
So you know about the important role exercise plays in the prevention of Type 2 diabetes as well as improved glycemic control in individuals with Type 2 diabetes. Now we need to translate that knowledge into practice — better yet, a practice that you maintain indefinitely. There are several keys to developing and sustaining a successful exercise program.
The first step toward your commitment to physical activity is setting specific goals and having reasonable expectations. Too often, we set lofty but unachievable goals for exercise and are discouraged when we cannot meet them. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) outlines the SMART guide to goal setting for your new exercise program. With the SMART method, your goals should be clearly defined: S=specific; M=measurable; A=attainable; R=relevant; T=timebound. The goals should be important to you and achievable. Finally, your exercise goals should have specific time frames that will motivate you and give you a sense of accomplishment. For example, a SMART fitness goal might be, “I will walk at least 10 minutes three times per week for the next three weeks.” This may not seem like a very ambitious goal to some, but for an individual new to exercise, this is usually a very realistic and achievable goal.
With regard to being specific about your exercise goal, using the FITT principle to design your exercise program can be extremely helpful. Many people do not feel they have the knowledge to design a fitness program, and the FITT principle is a reasonable guide. FITT stands for frequency, intensity, time, and type. All of these components are equally important to create exercises that fit your goals and fitness levels and can help keep your goals reasonable for you.
How often will you exercise? Frequency depends on a variety of factors, including your fitness level, exercise goals and type of physical activity.
How hard will you work during exercise? For beginners, it is best to start with a low-intensity program. Using a heart rate monitor is a great way to monitor your intensity.
How long will you exercise? The duration of your activity will again depend on your fitness level. It may be easier to complete smaller, more frequent exercise bouts than one longer duration activity. As time passes, you can slowly increase how long you exercise.
What kind of activity are you going to do? It could be a cardio activity such as walking, some type of resistance training or a combination of both.
Talk with your diabetes care team, especially your diabetes educator, to determine the right fitness goals for you.
The role of technology in your exercise program
Mobile fitness applications or “apps” can be great assistants in meeting your health, fitness, and weight loss goals. They are always with you and can be personalized to fit your specific needs. Staying motivated in your fitness goals requires daily attention to your eating habits and exercise routine, and fitness apps can provide that extra support to move you in the right direction. Some fitness apps function more as trackers to help you log your exercise and track your progress while others provide actual workouts and exercise plans.
Although these apps can vary in the tools they provide, they share a common goal: to promote physical activity and improve your fitness level and overall health.
Using a fitness app to help you achieve your physical activity goals can be a great motivator. However, the fitness app is only an aid. Personal accountability is key for any fitness program or lifestyle change. Here are a few tips to get the most out of whatever fitness app you choose.
1. Make it visible.
Your fitness app should be on the home page of your phone or electronic device. If it is buried on the third or fourth page, you are less likely to use it. After all, the apps you see on the first page of your device are typically the ones you use the most. If you see it each time you power on your device, it is likely to trigger a subconscious reminder to make it happen.
2. Log it!
Most apps include a logging feature as part of their design. Immediately after a workout, get in the habit of logging it. This benefits you because you can constantly track your progress, and that, in itself, is a great incentive to keep up the good work. Better yet, plan your day of exercise and log it ahead of time so you are more likely to find time for it. Schedule your physical activity just as you would that important meeting. On most apps, you can manually input your workout and it will help calculate calories burned.
3. It’s a virtual personal trainer.
Some apps include workouts that can be personalized to meet your fitness level and goals. It is easy to shy away from exercise simply because you lack confidence. With detailed instructions and examples, these apps can be great for beginners and allow people to work at their own pace. Since they can be done virtually anywhere, apps can eliminate the typical excuses that you don’t have time to go to the gym.
4. Use your app daily and track your progress.
A large majority of fitness app users stop using their app within the first week because they aren’t using the app consistently every day. That means that only a small portion of users stay on track with their app and exercise routine. Fitness apps only really work if you use them every day. Furthermore, most apps offer graphing features to visualize your progress and see if you are on track with your goals. Quite simply, seeing your progress is a foolproof way to keep you moving in the right direction.
The bottom line is: Embrace technology and let it work for you in the new year. With individualized workouts, progress tracking capabilities and inspirational virtual communities, fitness apps can motivate you and turn exercise into a fun and rewarding experience. Choose a fitness app that can work with your lifestyle, and use these tips to stick with the program. Keep in mind that using a fitness app does not replace the professional advice of your health-care provider or trained fitness professional. Always check with your health-care provider before beginning any exercise program. Talk with your diabetes educator to see what plan may be right for you. Be SMART, set a realistic goal. Now, what are you waiting for? Grab that smart device and get started!
Want to learn more about maintaining an exercise program with diabetes? Read “Add Movement to Your Life” and “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals.”