Starting an Exercise Program With Diabetes

Set Goals

Goals help give shape to your exercise plan. They give you something specific to work toward. Reaching a goal marks your success. Setting new goals keeps you going. Start out by asking yourself why you plan to exercise. Do you want to:

  • Feel better?
  • Move easier?
  • Lose weight?
  • Get stronger?
  • Need more energy?
  • Reduce stress?
  • Stay fit while learning to live with diabetes?
  • Reduce your risk of diabetes complications such as heart disease?
  • Get your doctor or partner to stop nagging you?

Once you know why you plan to exercise, talk with your doctor about realistic ways to reach your goal. With your doctor or exercise specialist, you can plan an exercise routine with your goal in mind. Your program will need to take into account your diabetes management routine.

Your doctor and diabetes educator can help you:

  • Plan the best times to exercise
  • Learn when to test your blood sugar levels
  • Understand what your test results mean in terms of exercise
  • Avoid problems with low blood sugar levels
  • Learn to inspect your feet before and after exercise
  • Manage other specific health concerns

Here's how this might work. Suppose you have type 2 diabetes and are overweight. You work in an office and drive to work. You don't have an exercise plan. Your doctor says that if you lose some weight and start to exercise, you may be able to improve your blood sugar control. After your physical exam and an exercise stress test, the doctor says you can start a walking program.

Your health goal: to lose 10 pounds. Your fitness goal: to stay with a regular walking program for 3 months, building up to 30 minutes of walking five times a week. Current fitness level: couch potato.

Now you need to break your fitness goal down into smaller steps. Make your goals realistic, measurable, and achievable. Your long-term goal is to walk for 30 minutes five times a week. Your short-term goal is to walk 10 minutes without stopping three times a week for a month.

Write your goal down. Keep a log, or diary, of your exercise. You can buy a special notebook, write on your calendar, or make a note in your blood glucose record book. You might also want to jot down how you feel while exercising, or any problems you have. This gives you something to look over when you're ready to make changes.

When your goal period is up, look at your log. Were there good days and bad? Did you start feeling different? As you set your new goal, use your log to decide on changes. Do you need to reduce your level of physical activity? Or are you ready to move up a notch? Discuss changes with your health care team. Be sure to reward yourself when you reach a goal.

Knowing that physical activity is something you'll do for the rest of your life can help. You can take the long view. If your first attempt doesn't work, try again. Do something different. Join a class or a mall walkers club. Think about what you enjoy doing and find a fitness activity that matches. Do you like to exercise to music? To TV? Alone or with friends? Outdoors or indoors? There are so many choices, you can find something to enjoy. You know that regular physical activity is good for your health. It also brings fringe benefits such as:

  • Looking better.
  • Meeting new friends.
  • Escaping from the daily grind.
  • Learning new skills.
  • Reducing stress.

Still, after you've been exercising for a while, you'll no doubt go through a spell where your motivation slips. Anyone who has a long-term exercise program has "off" days, times when he or she just doesn't want to stick with it. Or you may have a setback due to illness or injury.

When it happens to you, don't mistake it for failure. Give yourself a break. Call an exercise buddy. Review your exercise log. Read an inspirational book. Try a new activity. Join a class. Celebrate your successes. Treat yourself to something new to wear when you exercise — a new T-shirt, even new shoes. Before you know it, your exercise slump will be over.

To learn more on how you can easily incorporate exercise into your day, read The "I Hate to Exercise" Book from the American Diabetes Association.

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  • The American Diabetes Association

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