10 Fun Ways to Work Out for Diabetics Who Hate to Exercise
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your diabetes. The benefits are enormous. It can improve your mood and fight depression. It actually makes your body more sensitive to insulin and lowers blood glucose. It also improves cholesterol and blood pressure levels. And you could lose a few pounds to look and feel better, too.
Here’s how to take new steps to get more physically active — and how to inject some joy in those steps.
Get a Buddy
No matter what type of exercise you choose, it’s usually more fun to do it with someone else. Why? Well, humans are innately social animals. We like to talk and connect and share our experiences with others. It fights feelings of isolation — and encourages our engagement with our family, friends, neighbors, and the larger community.
You might choose a friend, a co-worker, a spouse, or your kid to be an exercise buddy. It all depends on what kind of physical activity you select and whether that person is interested in joining you. Choose someone who is just as interested in exercising as you are — or, even better, more interested. That way, when you feel unmotivated or tired, your buddy can encourage you to get moving. Don’t be intimidated about asking someone to join you in exercise.
Schedule the exercise with your buddy ahead of time. That way, you’ll both have it on your calendar, and you won’t be as likely to ditch exercise because other things come up. Having someone else make a commitment to your exercise goals can be a powerful thing.
Talking with a buddy while you exercise, whether walking on the treadmill at the gym or taking a brisk walk during your lunch breaks, can take your mind off the difficulty of the exercise. You might get distracted by talking or hearing about someone else’s day and forget that you didn’t feel like exercising in the first place. Hey, this is a time when gossiping is actually a good thing!
Play Like a Kid
There’s a reason kids are the best exercisers around: They don’t even think it’s exercise. For kids, playing soccer or climbing to the top of the jungle gym isn’t a way to burn calories. It’s just fun!
We could all take a lesson from kids by looking at exercise through the same rose-colored glasses. Instead of stressing that you don’t have time to go to the gym this week, just ask your kids or your grandkids to play. You might be surprised by what they come up with. You could find yourself on a bike ride — but you might also find yourself tossing a Frisbee or playing duck-duck-goose or hide and seek. Never underestimate the ability of a good pillow fight to bring contagious grins to everyone’s faces.
If you don’t have any kids around to bring out your inner child, try thinking about your favorite things that you did as a kid. Maybe you liked to swim or take walks in the woods or play Ping-Pong. Don’t look at your watch; just immerse yourself in these activities that give you pleasure.
It may sound too simple, but walking is one of the best ways to get exercise. Why? Because it’s so easy for almost everyone to do. You don’t need a fancy gym or fancy shoes — or even oodles of time. The freedom to walk can be fun because it’s possible for almost everyone.
Look at your day as a way to incorporate more steps. One way to make it fun (and a challenge) is to wear a pedometer or fitness tracker to measure your steps. For example, you might enjoy using a Fitbit, but there are less expensive versions out there, too. You might start by walking for just 10 minutes a day because you haven’t been physically active in a while. Or you might be ready to start walking for 30 minutes in the morning before work. The steps in between exercise are just as important. You might start taking the stairs in your apartment building or walking your dog for 5 minutes longer.
Taking even a 10-minute walk, specifically after your evening meal, could improve your blood glucose, according to a small study of 41 people with type 2 diabetes published in 2016.
There’s an App (or Video) for That
Finding fun in exercise has never been easier thanks to new mobile apps and online videos. You can stream videos of exercise classes on your phone, iPad, or computer. For example, you can stream yoga or strength-training videos or even a video of hiking through the desert. But really, the joy of apps and online videos is that you can find just about any exercise you desire.
One of the fun things about apps and videos is that you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home (yes, it’s possible to do leg lifts in your pajamas). You don’t have to be embarrassed about how you look in workout gear or that you don’t know the steps or that you sweat a lot. Maybe you need to take a lot of breaks. No problem. Just pause it.
Apps can also keep track of your activity and help you set and reach goals. And that can be fun, too. You can do this on your own or participate with a group of friends to get alerts on one another’s progress and encourage one another to keep moving.
YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play are flooded with terrific exercise videos and apps. Look for highly rated ones with lots of views or subscribers. You’ll have to pay for some, but there are excellent free apps and videos, too.
Turn Up the Volume
Whether you prefer a Beyoncé dance track or Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, music can make your workout more fun. Why? Music makes us want to move, whether it’s the beat or the emotions it evokes. We can’t help it.
Music can also be distracting, in a good way. Just when you’re tired and sweaty and don’t think you could take another step, your favorite song comes on and — voilà! — you’re swept away to the beat. You’re no longer thinking about stopping, you’re thinking about how Taylor Swift is telling you to “Shake It Off.”
In a small study from 2017, researchers found that people who exercised to music were more positive about their interval-training exercises than people who exercised without music.
Have you heard about the power of positive thoughts? Well, it certainly sounds like a good thing. And research shows that positive thinking can have health benefits, too. For example, a 2013 study showed that people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have coronary artery disease than those with a negative outlook.
The next time you’re thinking that exercise is decidedly un-fun, try shifting your brain. Instead, think about exercise as a wonderful opportunity. Think about how great it is that you can still exercise.
Some positive thoughts about your own body won’t hurt either. The next time you hear yourself thinking that you’re out of shape, you’re overweight, or you can’t do this, turn the conversation around. Instead, tell yourself you’re doing good things to take care of your body. Tell yourself that your body is strong and capable. It’s much more fun to be good to yourself than it is to knock yourself down.
Volunteer to Help Someone Else
The next time you’re feeling down about exercise, consider volunteering. Helping other people is, well, helpful of course, but it also has health benefits. A 2013 review of studies in the journal BMC Public Health found that volunteering had favorable benefits on mental health such as satisfaction, well-being, and depression, although not specifically physical health.
Volunteer for something that gets you moving, like delivering food to people through Meals on Wheels or working at a local soup kitchen or maintaining hiking or biking trails in your community. If you really want to get moving, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity to build houses for underserved communities. Go to Volunteers of America to find opportunities in your neighborhood.
Sign Up for a Walk to Raise Money
Walking for a cause like raising funds for diabetes, heart disease, or cancer research can be fun and rewarding. For one thing, you’ll have an event that might motivate you to get in shape or just start walking more regularly. This might be just the incentive you need to start walking at lunch or on the weekends.
You’ll also meet people at the event who share your interests and motivations. For example, if you have type 2 diabetes, you’ll meet a lot of people at an American Diabetes Association walk who struggle with the same issues as you. You might also break the sense of isolation that comes with having a chronic condition or taking care of someone with a chronic condition. It’s easy to feel alone, so take the opportunity to meet other people, raise some money (or just awareness), and get some exercise to boot.
Set Realistic and Practical Goals
Setting realistic and practical goals probably doesn’t sound like much fun. But there’s a silver lining to this approach: You’re more likely to exercise and lose weight if you set goals that are small and that you can achieve. And there’s nothing more exciting than stepping on that scale and seeing you dropped 1 or 2 pounds!
What’s a realistic and practical goal? Well, it depends on your age, your current physical activity, your lifestyle and work schedule, and many other things. However, it’s a given that just saying you’re going to lose 15 pounds isn’t going to make it happen. That goal is too vague and far away to be feasible.
Instead, you’ll need to make a plan for achieving a weight loss goal, of say 5 pounds (or another small increment) by coming up with daily, weekly, and even monthly strategies. Your plan might include scheduling specific exercise and workouts ahead of time. You might need to work with a personal trainer or diabetes educator to define your goals and track your progress. Setting and achieving smaller, realistic goals can help keep you motivated and moving forward.
Dancing could be one of the most under-appreciated ways to burn calories. The next time you’re feeling bored out of your gourd by the thought of exercise, turn on some music and have a dance party.
You could invite your kids or spouse, but don’t be shy about breaking out your best moves on your own (just like Tom Cruise in Risky Business). You don’t need the white socks, but “Old Time Rock & Roll” by Bob Seger is never a bad music choice.
Or you may be more moved by a dance that evokes your culture and traditions. Sign up for a dance class at a cultural or community center, or dance to a YouTube video in the privacy of your own room. Turning on music while you cook dinner might inspire you to shake your hips and take a few extra steps as you’re sautéing vegetables at the stove.