Within 2 years, the pandemic ushered billions of people into a sedentary lifestyle. But what does this phenomenon look like specifically for the Philippines? In an online survey, 53% reported getting only 10 to 20 minutes of exercise every week – a far cry from the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 150 minutes.
Physical inactivity is a “significant contributor” to diabetes in the Philippines, where 4.3 million people were diagnosed in 2021 alone. For people with diabetes, living their best life while managing a chronic disease is a tall order. Tracking blood sugar levels throughout the day, planning “diabetic-friendly” meals, and making time for check-ups leave little for exercise. Ironically, that is one of the two main pillars in managing diabetes.
If you’ve been putting exercise off and could use a little nudge, here are 5 tips to get moving and start reaping the benefits of a good sweat.
1) Choose a sport or physical activity that you like
Dragging your feet to the gym after a long day at work is a herculean task – we get it. But if you find yourself dreading exercise every time, it could be time to shake things up. By choosing a workout you enjoy, exercise will start to feel less like a chore and more like an integral part of your day.
There’s no lack of activities that people with diabetes can partake in safely. If you loathe running in humid weather, a dip in the pool could be a welcome respite. If you lack the discipline to follow through on plans to exercise, booking a badminton or tennis court with friends could keep you accountable. Momentum is everything, and weaving a routine into your current lifestyle makes exercise a more sustainable habit. Early risers could go for a morning jog, and those who work in the city can trade those happy hour tipples in for a group boxing class.
2) Start off slow and build the pace over time
“Go big or go home” may be the mantra of fitness junkies, but people who haven’t exercised for an extended period of time should hold that thought. Rather than attending back-to-back fitness classes, or pushing yourself to complete that 10km run, take it easy in the beginning.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, which works out to be a mere 20 minutes daily. This means you can certainly afford to start small, go slow, and increase the intensity and duration over time.
This is especially important for people with diabetes as they risk hypoglycemia – a condition where low blood sugar levels could be fatal if not treated promptly. Remember the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long. Lest you burn out physically and mentally, listen to your body, give it time to adapt, and take things down a notch where necessary.
3) Consult your doctor before starting
For people with diabetes, designing an exercise regime comes with myriad considerations. What works for a patient may not work for another, and it pays to err on the side of caution. For starters, getting your doctor’s stamp of approval on your routine ensures that it is personalised.
Chances are, the consultation will be a two-way street. Your exercise prescription must be tailored to specific goals, your medication schedule, and the presence and severity of diabetic complications. As such, your healthcare provider may advise on specific programming recommendations and possible changes to your medication.
Still, there remains a component that is beyond your doctor and your control – mishaps. As inflammation can be tricky for people with diabetes, proper and comfortable footwear is a must. To play safe, be vigilant about sores, blisters, irritation, cuts, or other injuries after exercising and seek medical attention immediately if they do not heal after 2 days.
4) Always monitor your blood sugar levels
On top of getting a doctor’s green light and being mindful of accidents, tracking blood sugar levels during exercise is another precautionary measure for diabetic patients. This is especially important for people who are taking insulin or medication that increases insulin production and has to be done before, during, and after exercise.
Tracking shows how your body is responding to exercise and detects risky fluctuations in good time. As you may imagine, this step is all the more indispensable when embarking on a new workout routine. Equally important is having sweets and glucose tablets handy to avoid hypoglycemia, and drinking plenty of fluids during exercise to prevent dehydration.
If you’re going with friends, keep them informed of your condition so they can look out for you should things go south. These precautionary measures may sound like a handful now, but will eventually run like clockwork over time.
5) Keep track of your progress
Starting an exercise regime is easy; maintaining it is the tough part. When life gets in the way, it is perfectly natural to run out of steam and lose sight of your goals. Why not take a leaf from the books of professional athletes and keep a training diary? It’s a powerful tool to monitor your training progress and remind yourself of how far you’ve come.
More than a log and source of motivation, training diaries are also used to prevent injuries. In that same vein, journalling can help you regulate the intensity, duration, and frequency of exercise to avoid overexertion. The simple practice takes no more than two minutes, and there is no lack of free and paid apps to help you along. Some even allow you to schedule workouts, create music playlists, and track your eating habits. After all, in managing diabetes, regular exercise has to be complemented by a balanced diet.
Managing diabetes with exercise
Everyone stands to gain from an active lifestyle, but people with diabetes in particular shouldn't sleep on its plethora of benefits. By taking time to discover what you enjoy, developing a sustainable routine alongside your doctor, and making precautionary measures a protocol, exercise will soon become a way of life.
Have access to virtual workouts and more tips on reducing the risk of diabetes through exercise at GoWell, a preventive wellness program under the life and health insurance plan SUN Fit and Well. This new generation wellness plan is suited for young people who want to keep healthy from prevention to recovery. Through GoWell, SUN Fit and Well clients are entitled to Gold membership which allows them to avail of special access and privileges to premium workouts and various wellness activities that will help them stay fit and healthy.