Understanding your body and making healthy choices
Understanding how your choices affect your body can help you to stay in control and avoid overindulgence
Ok, so your doctor, the nurse, the podiatrist, your family, pretty much everyone is telling you that you need to exercise right? But you hate it. Really hate it. Fair enough, not everyone is cut out to be an elite athlete or spend all their time at the gym.
But let’s face it; deep down you know you need to do something more active, for your overall health, perhaps to lose weight, and especially for your type 2 diabetes. So what’s the answer?
Let’s forget about the word ‘exercise’ and everything you associate with it. If you ask a 5-year old what ‘exercise’ they do, they would probably look at you blankly. They don’t do ‘exercise’, they play football or run around chasing each other or collect sticks to build a fort – none of this is ‘exercise’, it’s just FUN! So let’s try and get back to that feeling.
So think back to when you used to do things that were active, just because you enjoyed them (you don’t have to think as far back as 5 years old!). Did you love a particular sport? Did you love exploring fields or forests? Did you enjoy long walks on the beach, or having a dip in a pool? Was dancing or sight-seeing your thing? What did you enjoy doing that involved being active? There must have been something.
Now think about whether you could incorporate that activity, or a version of it, into your life now. So, maybe you don’t fancy playing football for 90 minutes anymore, but there are often clubs and classes covering all ages and abilities that will allow you to ease back into a fun activity slowly and gently with people at a similar level of fitness to you.
Or maybe you always loved dancing and have enjoyed watching ‘Strictly’ – well why not find a local dance class where you can learn something new and meet new people whilst also doing something active: it could be ballroom, Latin, Zumba Gold, line dance – whatever gets you moving. You don’t even usually need to go with a partner, you’ll find someone to dance with there. And everyone will be learning, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed.
Maybe you’re just not a group activity kind of person, or can’t afford to join a club, or class. Don’t worry, there are plenty of free activities you can do to incorporate a bit of energy and activity into your day (sometimes without even leaving the house!) There is something suitable for everyone, and we’ve listed some ideas at the end of the article to inspire you.
But before you start any form of activity, there are a few things to think about:
Tell your doctor about your plans to start an activity just so that they are aware of what you’re doing, and can do any checks that you may require. If you have nerve pain you may need to be careful with certain activities, and your doctor may want to check your physical health first.
Also check with your doctor whether your medication will have any effect on you during your activity. It may help to check your blood sugar before and after any new activity to see if it is affected at all – being prepared is much easier than being caught by surprise!
Keep some juice or glucose sweets with you in case your blood sugar drops unexpectedly. Tell the people you’re doing your activity with that you’re diabetic and what to do if you have a hypo (see this article for more guidance on what to do). You may also want to wear a medical ID bracelet/tag in case of an emergency. And remember to drink water throughout your activity.
If you haven’t been very active until now, it’s best to start gently, with low-impact activities. If you have painful neuropathy (nerve pain) or your feet are not in great condition, then a vigorous sport like squash or football may not be a great idea. But nerve pain is not a reason to avoid being active completely – in fact exercise has been shown to improve nerve pain, so it’s a really good reason to get out there and do something.
Start with activities that are gentle and low impact, like swimming, cycling, yoga, pilates. Everyday activities like gardening, vacuuming, walking are all great and you can start slowly and build them up. Starting gently like this means you’re likely to avoid injury as well.
Start with 10 minutes of activity at a time. Gradually build that up to 30 mins a day. It doesn’t have to all be in one go, you can do 10 minutes of vacuuming in the morning, a 10 min walk in your lunch hour and another 10 mins in the evening of whatever takes your fancy. And if you do that 5 times a week, suddenly you’re doing 150 minutes of activity a week, and you’re there! Goal achieved. And then you might even find you start enjoying it… The key is to do what you enjoy and not overdo it, so that you carry on having fun and feel like you’re achieving something.
It’s also really good to mix up your activities, so some are more strenuous and make you breathe a bit faster, and others are more about strength or flexibility. The best thing for your diabetes is when you do moderate activity for a longer time, like a ramble or hike. Your muscles take up much more glucose this way, helping to lower your blood glucose level.
When you have diabetes you have to take extra care of your feet. This means when you start getting active, you should think about your feet and make sure you have the right footwear for your activity. Getting suitable, comfortable, well-fitted shoes for an activity can make all the difference to your feet (and to your enjoyment!) Keep an eye out for any potential problems before they start by checking your feet before and after an activity.
When you’re making gradual changes, it can be hard to stay motivated, but by tracking your progress you’ll be able to look back and see how much more you’re doing than you were previously, which can be very encouraging. Try using the Better Living app to help you set a goal and track your progress. Read more about it here.
Enjoying yourself is the most important advice of all – it will mean you are more likely to continue your activity, do more of it, and in the process get healthier and happier.
With that in mind, here is a list of ideas of different, fun activities that will get you out there, building up your fitness and health, without feeling like you’re doing ‘exercise’!
|Starting off (everyday activities)||Getting a bit more active||Feeling energetic|
|Walking (getting off the bus a stop early, walk to work, walk to the shops)||Swimming||Hiking|
|Gardening (raking, digging, mowing the lawn)||Yoga class or DVD||Exercise ball classes|
|Housework (dusting, vacuuming, polishing, cleaning)||Cycling||Aqua aerobics classes|
|Taking the stairs instead of the lift||Country walks/rambling (join a local rambling club to get outdoors and meet new people)||Sport (football, tennis, netball, badminton – all of these are available for adults of different ages and abilities)|
|Pilates DVD||Dance class||Coaching a younger team in your sport of choice|
|Download a pedometer app on your phone, or buy one to wear which counts your steps every day and reminds you to get up and be active||Kayaking/canoring||Horse riding|
|Taking the kids or grandkids to the park||Golf|