Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes

Hate the thought of exercise? Actually, me too. People sometimes assume that because my job title is nutritionist, I probably spend my weekends doing triathlons. Not so! My family likes to joke that I’m barely coordinated well enough to walk, and I’m a lot more interested in reading than sweating. The truth is, the only forms of exercise I’ve ever liked are walking and yoga.

Exercise is essential for managing type 2 diabetes

With that said, physical activity is essential for taming type 2 diabetes. (We don’t have to call if exercise if you don’t want — we can call it “activity” or “movement” or any other word that suits you better.)

If you already have a regular exercise routine and you get at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week (30 minutes 5 days a week, or some similar combination), you’re doing great. You can ignore today’s Action Item, overachiever! 🙂

I have a plan for the rest of us. It’s easy, so don’t worry. We’re going to use the American Heart Association’s Beginner Walking Plan. With each new day of the Tame Type 2 series, you’ll get a very small walking goal. We’ll start out in just 5-minute chunks of time, so there’s no need to worry that you won’t be able to handle it.

What if I have physical limitations?

If walking isn’t for you, that’s OK.  There are plenty of exercises you can do from the comfort of your home.  Try this chair workout as a starting point.  If you don’t love that video, search the internet for “chair exercises” or “seated workout” until you find an instructor you enjoy.

How much does exercise affect my diabetes?

Everybody is different.  There are no guarantees, but a thirty-minute walking session will usually lower your blood sugar somewhere between 20 and 50 points.  We’re going to start off slowly, so you may not see that kind of a drop in your blood sugar at first.

How can I get ready to exercise with diabetes?

  1. Make sure you have shoes that fit well.  They don’t need to be fancy or expensive, they just need to be supportive and comfortable.

  2. Consider diabetic socks, which are made for people with neuropathy (loss of sensation) in their feet.  Diabetic socks are seamless so that they won’t cause blisters on the feet of people who can’t feel blisters forming.

  3. If you’re on medication or insulin, make sure your blood sugar isn’t too low before you exercise.  You know your body best, but a general rule is that your blood sugar should be at least 120 before you start exercising.

  4. If you tend to run low, take some glucose tabs or hard candy on your walk, in case of low blood sugar.

  5. Drink plenty of water.

The absolute worst part of exercise for most people is getting out of the house and into the outside world.  But…yesterday, you let go of your guilt and shame, and today, your body can take up all the space you need while you’re out in the world getting the activity you need.

It’s time to take care of you like you’re important. Because you are.

Action Item:

If you’re not able to walk, watch the video I linked to above and decide it’s right for you. If not, keep looking until you find one you like. Get your chair ready, and find 2 soup cans you can use for weights if needed.

If you’re able to walk, find a comfortable pair of shoes and some good socks. Place them in the most convenient spot you can find, so you’ll know exactly where they are when you need them, tomorrow.

Whether you’re walking or doing chair exercises, get out your calendar. Choose a time of day that’s convenient for you to exercise.  Schedule your walk on your calendar every day for the next 30 days just like you would schedule a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with a friend, and don’t let anything stand in your way.  You’re worth it. If you use a paper calendar, write it down in INK.

From now on, if someone asks you to do something else during that time, you can honestly say, “I can’t, I’ve already got something on my calendar.” Repeat that phrase out loud until you’re comfortable with those words. If you haven’t been taking care of you, they might feel foreign at first, but I promise, you’ll get the hang of it.

Julie Cunningham is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist. She believes food is the foundation of good health, and that our culture of obsession about body size is damaging to health, happiness, and productivity in far too many people. When not talking or writing about food and health, she can be found in the the mountains of western NC, where she lives with her family and four legged friends.

Julie Cunningham

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