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Published on May 26, 2015

woman working out with weights

Living with Diabetes: Adapting Exercise into Your Life

Have you ever tried to start an exercise program with the goal of lowering your blood sugar levels only to run into a roadblock? Maybe you’ve been told you should lose weight or walk more to decrease blood sugar levels, but don’t even know where to begin?

In the society we live in, exercise is all around us. From late-night infomercials to the commercials during your favorite show, advertisements for the next big piece of exercise equipment are everywhere. If exercise is so close at hand — why is it so hard to get on a program and stick to it?

The answer may not be the exercises you do but the process you go through when choosing what activities you will complete. Should you go to a gym? Should you start riding your bike? How should you monitor your blood sugar when exercising? What should you eat if your sugar gets low? All the possibilities of how, when, and where you exercise can get overwhelming. In order to make those decisions, you need to make a change in how you complete your daily activities.

Occupational therapy theory explains it like this: In order to complete life activities in a satisfying way that helps you meet your goals, a person must make adaptations to his/her surroundings. Most people adapt to changes in the world around them every day without even noticing. But, when exercise to lower blood sugar needs to be added to a lifestyle, it is easy to become overwhelmed and have the process stall out. It is at this point t an occupational therapist can help.

What Are Some Things That can Help?

The latest research indicates that 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise combined with two to three sessions of resistance training per week can lower your Hb A1C levels (three-month blood sugar level test). Now, don’t let that scare you. It may sound like a lot of time, but it is really pretty reasonable when you break it down:

  • 21.4 minutes daily for seven days
  • 30 minutes daily for five days
  • 50 minutes daily for three days

Resistance training can actually be completed in 20-25 minutes per session. Really, we are talking about 30 minutes of exercise per day. That sounds more doable, right?

Why Do I Need Occupational Therapy?

You should be ready to jump up and get going right now, right? Well, sometimes it’s not that simple. There are multiple reasons why you haven’t snagged that 30 minutes up to this point. We all have life roles (mom, dad, employee, employer, volunteer, etc.) that demand our time and attention. Oftentimes, these demands put exercise on the back burner in favor of time with family, deadlines at work, volunteer commitments — the list goes on and on. To be successful at an exercise program that lowers blood sugar, we need to really take time to ask ourselves some questions:

  • What kind of exercise do I need?
  • What should those exercises look and feel like?
  • Do I understand myself and how I make lifestyle changes? Have I made lifestyle changes in the past? Was I successful? Do I need to adjust how I make changes to my lifestyle? Do I understand how exercise has affected me in the past?
  • What does my daily schedule look like? Where will I put my exercise in the schedule? Do I need to remove something from my schedule to get the exercise in? What should be out and what should be in?
  • What competes with exercise for my time? Can I change those activities or are they too important to change?
  • What barriers are keeping me from exercising?
  • What is different about exercising with diabetes or pre-diabetes? What precautions should be taken?

By finding the answers to questions like these, you can come to understand how you make an occupational adaptation to the exercise you need in your daily life. One other thing to consider is that lifestyle changes can be stressful. So you need to consider how you cope with stress. Do you use positive coping mechanisms such as talking with a friend, educating yourself on techniques, deep breathing, etc.? Or do you use negative coping mechanisms such as drinking, smoking, etc.? The stress of a lifestyle change can derail even the best-laid plans.

An occupational therapist can work through the occupational adaptation process with you and assist with the development of an exercise program that can be implemented successfully into your lifestyle.

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