Let’s talk about exercise. I don’t mean intense, kick-your-butt, “so hard it hurts” exercise. All of that can be good, of course – if you’re fit and inspired enough to do it. But what if you’re neither fit enough nor inspired? Should you throw in the towel?
Obviously, the answer is no. But still the question remains: how much and what kind of exercise is enough for your diabetes care?
Like everything else with diabetes, this is a personal question, based on your weight, height, blood sugars, and goals. From my perspective, after many years as a type 2, the average amount that seems to work is about an hour a day of steady exertion, whether it be weight lifting, cycling, elliptical, walking, or rowing. Something that challenges you enough so you don’t get bored and quit. Something that keeps you reasonably fit. Something you can live with.
Is this scientific? Well, maybe. A recent study showed that moderate exercise or walking about 11 miles per week “may be nearly as effective as a more intensive multicomponent approach involving diet, exercise and weight loss for preventing the progression to diabetes in pre-diabetic individuals.”
Eleven miles a week is about forty-four times around a quarter mile track, which sounds horrible when you think about covering it all at once. But broken into bites, it comes to about 6 times around the track, seven times a week, give or take a lap or two.
Which seems pretty doable to me.
The other thing you need, aside from aerobic exercise, is weight training. Joslin Diabetes Center recommends it, and so do I. Weight training, which burns calories and builds muscles, is one of the best ways to lower your sugars and to trim down your hips. I’m not talking about forty pound weights – three to fifteen pounds will do. Or, employ stretchy bands, which pit you against your body weight.
For me, creating an exercise habit wasn’t a result of great discipline or will power – I just learned to think of it more as a habit of being. Tell yourself that exercise is as essential as food and water. That it is as important as taking your medications, a good night’s sleep, or brushing your teeth. When you put exercise into this non-negotiable category, it no longer seems something extra or added on to your life, but something you simply do.
After exercising every day for over thirty years, I’ll be honest: Some days, it feels like torture. Some days it feels great. (OK, most days it feels like torture.) But no matter how it feels, I think of it like the old Dunkin Donut commercial, “It’s time to make the donuts.” Instead of donuts, my mantra is “It’s time to exercise to get my sugars down” or “It’s time to exercise because it feels good to have done it.”
Or maybe, more specifically: It’s time to exercise because it stretches my limbs, builds muscles, and makes me feel alive.