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Tips for Starting (and Sticking to) an Exercise Routine

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2021.

Improving your physical fitness has a host of benefits, regardless of whether you have type 2 diabetes or not.

Building an exercise routine for diabetes

Walking, swimming, biking, dancing, jogging, skiing can help you build a healthier heart, control blood sugar and blood pressure better, and lose weight. This in turn can prevent the onset of diabetes or reduce the risk of complications.1

However, if you do not already have exercise built into your life, it may seem hard to get started. Here are some tips to build and maintain a regular exercise routine.

Keep exercise interesting

For long-term success, it is important to keep your exercise routine fun, interesting and focused on activities you enjoy. You will need to include 3 types of exercise into your fitness routine:1

  • Weight-bearing (resistance training) to build muscle strength
  • Aerobic to strengthen the heart and lungs
  • Flexibility to stay limber and reduce pain

A weekly mix of resistance and flexibility training and aerobic activity might involve walking, lifting weights, and a yoga class. Another week might include gardening, swimming, and some online stretching videos. If you get bored with walking, you can take a bike ride or go dancing.

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If you cannot afford a gym membership or fitness classes, look online for free videos for yoga, stretching, weight training, marching in place, and more. You may also need to vary your routine as the weather changes. For example, you may need to find a place to walk indoors if it gets too cold, too wet, or too hot outside.

Start with small, easy steps

Most doctors recommend you aim for at least 150 minutes (2 and a half hours) of activity each week. Spread across 7 days that is 21 to 22 minutes of activity.2

However, if you rarely get any exercise, you will need to start by making small changes. Little changes will be easier to stick with and build upon long-term. Try setting weekly goals that are easy to accomplish. This will make you feel successful and more likely to continue on your fitness journey. Some ideas for small changes include:3

  • Go outside for a 5-minute walk
  • Make an extra lap around a store
  • Park further from the front of a store
  • Lift 1-pound weights (many canned foods come in 1-pound cans)
  • If you have been sitting for 30 minutes, get up and stand or walk around for 2 minutes

Remember, it takes time to build new habits. Give yourself time to build strength and reward yourself for progress. And, if you stop exercising for a while, do not get discouraged. Just get started again.

Make it easy to get fit

You should check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine. They can help you pick activities that will work for you and give you an idea of how much you should exercise. Other tips include:2,3

  • Exercise at the same time every day so it is a regular part of your day.
  • Find a friend to exercise with.
  • Do not exercise right after a meal or when it is too hot or too humid.
  • Listen to music, podcasts, or audio books to keep yourself entertained.
  • Always wear shoes that are supportive and protect the feet. You will not want to keep at it if your feet are sore or blistered.
  • Ask your doctor if your insurance will pay for a physical therapist to design a workout program just for you.

Finally, keep a record of your physical activity so you can measure your progress. You can use pen and paper or a fitness app on your phone. A year from now, you will be amazed at how far you have come.