Many of us didn’t get as much exercise as we should have during the last two years for several reasons – most notably the pandemic. But as restrictions lift, there is an opportunity to get up and move again. Here are some tips for getting back to your exercise routine safely.
I hate to admit it, but over the course of the last two years, I used the pandemic as a convenient excuse to not exercise.
Those of us with diabetes – both type 1 and type 2 – were considered to be at high risk for developing serious complications from COVID. And even with my mask on, I didn’t feel comfortable going to the gym.
There were too many people in close proximity who were sweating a lot, breathing heavily, and touching equipment constantly.
Before COVID, I was pretty consistent about going to the gym 3-4 times a week. My regimen consisted of doing cardio 2-3 times a week and weight training 1-2 times a week (one of those times each week was with a trainer).
That routine changed completely in March 2020.
I tried to keep in shape at home.
I tried using resistance bands.
I tried taking the dog on longer morning walks.
I tried cutting back on how many calories I ate.
But I just wasn’t getting the same results that I’d had when I was going to the gym, and I quickly became unmotivated.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone.
One study at Harvard found that at least 50% of Americans put on some weight during COVID, and those of us who did gain weight over the last two years put on between 10-30 unwanted pounds.
Reasons for the weight gain varied – stress eating, adopting a more sedentary lifestyle, and mindless snacking while binging entertainment or using electronic devices.
Given how stressful and disruptive the pandemic was to our lives, none of us should feel guilty or ashamed about putting on a few extra pounds.
However, now that the world is transitioning back to normal, we really don’t have any excuse for not getting up and getting moving again!
While physical activity is important for everyone, it is even more crucial for those of us with diabetes.
Indeed, experts stress that exercise is every bit as critical as proper diet and medication in the treatment and management of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Yet despite the experts’ advice, studies consistently show that those of us with diabetes report that one of the biggest challenges we face is finding the time to exercise and then mustering the motivation to do it.
Before I go any further, I must admit that, as someone with type 1 diabetes, I fully understand and appreciate that people with type 1 face different challenges than people with type 2.
However, that doesn’t mean I cannot empathize with those who have type 2.
I lost my Great Grandma and my two Great Aunts to the complications of type 2 diabetes. These three venerable women endured diabetes back in the 70s and 80s when insulin was still being extracted from the pancreases of sheep, pigs, and cows.
Mind you, this insulin was perfectly safe, and it extended their lives for many years, but proper diet and a regular exercise routine would have undoubtedly extended their lives had we known then what we know now.
So, let’s talk about how all of us – both people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes – can exercise safely and healthily.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that each of us is an individual with our own unique situation. An exercise routine that works for one person might not work for another. You need to set your own individual goals and follow an exercise routine that works best for you, setting goals that are both realistic and attainable.
Your goals or routine might include things like:
Taking a 20-minute walk three days a week
Losing one pound a week for six weeks
Playing an exercise video game every day
Lifting weights three times a week
Playing pickleball twice a week
Everyone’s goals will be different, and the goals you set are your own. As a matter of fact, no one needs to know about the goals you’ve set for yourself except for you. But once you set your own personal goal, you should try to achieve it.
Remember the old Chinese saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Now let’s talk about some exercise tips and considerations for those of us with diabetes.
Set individual, achievable goals that work for you. Begin with modest goals at first and increase gradually. Start with five or ten minutes of movement every day. Walk to the end of the street and back. Dance to your favorite song. Bike around the block. Slowly increase your goal that might, for example, include two walks to the end of your street or dancing to two of your favorite songs, or biking twice around the block.
Always check your blood glucose level both before you begin and after you complete any exercise.
Make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes, cotton socks, and clothing that is appropriate for the weather. Check your feet for sores or blisters after exercising.
Consider exercising with a friend or workout partner who knows about your condition and knows what to do if you have a high or low episode.
Make sure you are wearing a necklace or bracelet that indicates that you have diabetes (actually, this is something that you should wear constantly, not just when you’re exercising).
Make sure you have a fast acting glucose source with you before you engage in any exercise.
Always take water with you and make sure to hydrate throughout your routine.
Prevent boredom by listening to music or by watching video entertainment (if you are safely on a stationary exercise machine). My gym has a cardio room that plays movies, and you would be amazed at how quickly the time flies when I’m on the treadmill.
If something starts to hurt, stop right away. Don’t “push yourself” to keep going. Pushing yourself may not be a wise choice.
One last thing to remember is that you should always make sure that your healthcare professional is on board with your exercise program before you start.
I know that certain exercise goals and challenges may not be the same for those of us with type 1 diabetes as they are for people with type 2 diabetes. But this article is meant to remind us all that any physical activity has numerous positive benefits – regardless of your health status.
That’s why I hope to convince even a few folks to put down the remote, get off the couch, and take a walk around the block.
This article represents my pledge to get out and get exercising. Whether you have type 1, type 2, gestational or some other kind of diabetes, I’m hoping you’ll join me as we all make a commitment to get moving again!