Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists

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Spring: The perfect time to help your patients be more physically active

May 11, 2010

Spring has sprung. The days are longer; temperatures have gone up (and down, and up….); flowers and trees have blossomed. This is a great time of year for people to start exercising. Being the exercise specialist on our diabetes care team, my main job it to encourage people to exercise. An easier task this time of year, but, it is still a major challenge to get people, who are typically inactive, to become active.

The exercise guidelines for people with diabetes seem simple enough. We ask people to do a moderately-paced activity for 30 minutes, most days of the week. In fact, the guidelines are the same as for people without diabetes. (I ask in class, Who should exercise? Answer: Everyone!) We have gotten away from using the word exercise, replacing it with physical activity. There are a couple of reasons. First, “exercise” sounds like something that must be done at a gym and should be hard, requiring special clothes and causing us to sweat. Not so appealing for many. So, we say “physical activity” because it is less threatening and easier to accomplish. Also, it has been shown that we can get many health-related benefits from doing normal activities (gardening, vacuuming, taking care of children, etc.) so we don’t need to actually exercise. I tend to interchange the words unless I am talking specifically about one or the other.

There are different ways to accomplish the guidelines for exercise/physical activity. Let’s start by looking at the mode, or type. Walking, riding a bike, swimming, doing a dance class or just dancing, hiking, water aerobics, or weight-training. What other activities do you suggest?

How long and how often? The goal is 30 minutes on most, or all, days of the week. This can be done in bouts of 10 minutes or more to achieve benefits. Shorter bouts should be done multiple times each day, adding up to 30 minutes. I find this is a great relief for people who are overwhelmed by the thought of an entire half-hour at once.

How hard? Moderately-paced exercise means that breathing is increased from when a person is resting but they are not short of breath. Measure this with the “talk test,” being able to carry on a conversation without shortness of breath while exercising.

One key is to work with an individual person with diabetes, whether during a one-to-one encounter or in a class, to see what will work for them. I find that if I ask the right questions, people can figure it out for themselves. How successful have you been with getting people to start exercising? What hints or secrets can you share?

Jump into Spring! Help people become more active and, perhaps, increase your activity! Smell the flowers, look at the trees, enjoy! And share with our group your hints, ideas, suggestions, and successes.

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