Starting an Exercise Program With Diabetes

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Exercise works the same way. Taking that first step can be hard. Maybe you've never exercised. Maybe you used to but stopped. Maybe you've just been diagnosed with diabetes and feel like you'll never be fit again. We've all got plenty of reasons not to exercise. We're:

  • Too old.
  • Too fat.
  • Too weak.
  • Too sick.
  • Too busy.
  • Too tired.

What we need to remember is that it's never too late. With few exceptions, even if you're disabled or injured, you can still improve your level of fitness. Once you get going, you'll be amazed how quickly your excuses fade.

Too old? Join a class with others in your age group. There are seniors' mall-walking clubs, water exercise classes, senior stretch programs, even chair aerobics classes. Check your local YMCA, YWCA, or county recreation program. Nothing in your area? Start your own program with a partner, such as a relative or friend.

Too fat? If you feel too awkward or embarrassed to exercise, join the club. Most people feel slightly silly when they start out. Exercise is not just for skinny minnies. In fact, once you get going, look around. Few regular exercisers have perfect physiques. Most fitness buffs will respect your efforts and root for your success. If you're trying to lose weight, even a modest amount of regular physical activity can help.

Too weak? Regular physical activity will help you have more strength and energy for daily tasks.

Too sick? Of course, you can't exercise when you're ill or when your blood sugar levels are out of control. But once you are feeling better, regular physical activity will help you stay well. If you stick with it, you may even find you don't get sick as much and may need less medication.

Too busy? You don't have to spend hours exercising to see a health benefit. Depending on your fitness level, you may need to start with as little as 10 minutes of walking three times a week. If you really want to make a change, you can find ways to get more activity into your daily routines. Park farther away from the entrances at the mall. Plan an after-dinner walk with someone you want to talk to. Ride a stationary bike while you watch the morning or evening news.

Too tired? Believe it or not, regular physical activity will give you more energy. Toning your muscles and conditioning your heart, lungs, and blood vessels will better equip you to handle the work and stress of daily life.

Lots of people think of exercise programs the way they think of diets. They plan to get in shape for a certain event. Or they join an exercise class hoping it will help them lose 5 or 10 pounds. But physical activity and healthful eating are habits we need to stay with over the long haul. That doesn't mean doing the same exercise or eating the same meals forever.

You may enjoy trying new forms of physical activity, in the same way new recipes are fun. Or you may find an activity that works for you and stay with it.

The First Step

The first step to fitness is a visit to the doctor. Before you begin any exercise program, get a thorough medical exam. The exam should check:

  • Blood pressure
  • Blood fat levels
  • Glycohemoglobin and current blood glucose level
  • Health of heart and circulatory system
  • Body composition (fat versus lean)
  • Eyes
  • Feet

Your doctor should help determine your level of fitness. You need to know what types of exercise or exercise programs are good choices for you. Some complications of diabetes make certain types of physical activity bad choices. The benefits of an exercise program need to outweigh the risks.

If possible, get an exercise prescription. This is an exercise plan that takes into account your current level of fitness, special health concerns, and your diabetes treatment plan. Your health care providers are your best resources.

On the next page, learn to set goals for your exercise routine.