How to increase your activity level

Create: 2020-12-18
Update: 2020-12-18
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Focus on Diabetes
Harvard Medical School

How to increase your activity level

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For people who have diabetes, the benefits of physical activity can’t be overstated.

  • increased physical activity and exercise help control weight

  • lower blood pressure

  • lower harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides

  • higher healthy HDL cholesterol

  • stronger muscles and bones

  • reduced anxiety

  • improved general well-being.

There are added benefits for people with diabetes: exercise lowers blood glucose levels independent of insulin and also boosts your body’s sensitivity to insulin, countering insulin resistance. In addition, strength training builds muscles — and muscle tissue burns more glucose than other types of tissue.

Starting to Exercise
What can improve your mood, boost your ability to fend off infection, and lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and colon cancer? The answer is regular exercise. It may seem too good to be true, but it's not. Hundreds of studies demonstrate that exercise helps you feel better and live longer. This report answers many important questions about physical activity. It will also help guide you through starting and maintaining an exercise program that suits your abilities and lifestyle.

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If you are looking to increase your activity level, here are steps you can take.

Step one

The easiest place to begin is to take a hard look at your current level of physical activity. Start building activity into your day with simple choices:

  • taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • gardening
  • housework
  • washing the car

These everyday chores will also help you increase your overall activity level and burn calories too. Although these changes may seem small, when you implement them each and every day, they add up.

Step two

If you are already somewhat active or have an occupation that requires movement, design a regular exercise plan that suits your lifestyle. To be successful, an exercise program has to be sustainable — something you can stick with over the long term. You can begin by looking at the time slots you have in your day for exercise (before work, at lunchtime, in the evening) and then evaluate the resources you have at your disposal. For example, does your workplace or senior center have a fitness facility? If not, do you have access to an enclosed, weather-safe place to walk? Be creative with your options; don’t assume the only option for exercise is an expensive gym membership.

Your goal is to create a plan that enables you to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week — the target set by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The best activity for you may be something as simple as walking. Try adding 30 minutes of walking five times per week to your schedule. In addition, the Physical Activity Guidelines recommend two strength training sessions per week. The combination of aerobic exercise and strength training seems to have the best overall benefit when it comes to reducing insulin resistance and lowering blood sugar levels. But beware of these cautions.


People with diabetic retinopathy (blood vessel abnormalities in the eye’s retina) should avoid intense resistance exercise such as weight lifting, which can cause a marked increase in blood pressure that might trigger bleeding within the eye. High-impact exercise such as boxing or diving should also be avoided.

People with neuropathy (nerve pain or loss of sensation), particularly those who have lost feeling in their feet, should avoid traumatic weight-bearing exercise, such as long-distance running or downhill skiing. Those activities could lead to stress fractures in the small bones of the foot or ankle, or pressure ulcers on the toes and feet. Low-impact or non-weight-bearing types of exercise, such as swimming, yoga, and bicycling, are safer choices. Also, be sure to choose well-fitting, protective, and comfortable footwear, especially during exercise.

Featured in this issue

Product Page - Starting to Exercise Read More

Starting to Exercise

Featured content:

What can exercise do for you?
Should you talk to a doctor first?
Getting started: What type of exercise should you do?
The workouts
Designing your own program
•  ... and more!

Click here to read more »
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