Diabetes and depression are two of the more common chronic diseases in North America. Studies show that exercise is very helpful for people living with either one. Is your weight an issue? Obesity also places you at higher risk of many chronic diseases. Currently, one in six Canadian adults is considered to be obese. Increasing physical activity can lower the risk.
For someone with a chronic disease, beginning an exercise program can be a challenge. Lack of energy, motivation or fear can all be barriers. Understanding how an exercise prescription works, and the benefits involved, may help you to get started.
The first step in beginning an exercise program involves talking to your family doctor. Your doctor understands the disease and is aware of any limitations you might have. If necessary, you can be referred to health care providers in your community who can assist you. This might include personal trainers, kinesiologists, and exercise physiologists, who specialize in prescribing exercise to those who have chronic disease.
Just as your doctor gives you a prescription for medication, an exercise prescription gives you a step-by-step guide for how to exercise. The FITT acronym is a simple reminder.
Canadian guidelines currently recommend that an average adult do 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise per week. Each session can last 10 minutes or more.
If you are living with a chronic disease, it is fine to modify these recommendations. Remember, start low and go slow.
Group versus individual programs - Both group and individual exercise programs are equally effective, according to current research. Group exercise can be a fantastic way to stay motivated. When starting group fitness classes, introduce yourself to the instructor at the beginning of class. The instructor can give you tips and help you to have a positive experience.
About eight per cent of Canadians experience a major depression at some time in their lives. Unfortunately, many do not seek help because they worry about what others will think of them. Warning signs include a low mood, little motivation or changes in energy, appetite or sleep. If this is true for you, the first step is to talk to your family doctor. Fortunately, there are treatments that can help.
Exercise has proved to play an important role in treating depression, along with medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. The best exercise prescription for those with depression has been determined in various studies.
Frequency Aim to be active at least three days a week. The studies enrolled participants for at least two months, so develop a routine and stay with it to see the benefits.
Intensity A simple way to monitor how hard you are working is to rate your exertion. Aim to work at 60 to 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate. This is easily calculated. Just subtract your age from the number 220. Another simple way to monitor how hard you are working is to rate your exertion. Aim to work at three or four on a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being your hardest effort.
Time Try to spend 30 minutes doing the activity of your choice. However, even shorter sessions of 10 minutes, three times a day, can also be effective.
Type Most research supports the use of aerobic exercise to treat depression. Include activities that increase your heart rate like brisk walking, jogging or biking.
Final tips Dealing with depression can be difficult. Low motivation and energy make it challenging to begin exercising. Always start gradually and work up. You can feel the benefit of even small amounts of exercise.
Type 2 diabetes, also called adult onset diabetes, tends to develop later in life. It involves resistance to insulin, a hormone that allows glucose in the blood to enter the body’s cells. Obesity is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.
Physical activity is key to managing type 2 diabetes. As always, talk to your family doctor before starting an exercise program. If you have a history of heart disease or peripheral artery disease, or notice new chest pain or shortness of breath, mention these concerns. Your doctor will likely recommend that you have a stress test before you begin exercising.
Both aerobic exercise (such as walking, swimming or biking) and resistance training (exercises to build muscle strength) benefit people who have type 2 diabetes. Increasing your heart rate through aerobic activity strengthens your heart and lungs, improves your blood pressure and helps you to lose weight. Resistance training will allow your muscles to be more sensitive to insulin.
In the short term, exercise can improve your mood, energy and sleep. In the long term, it could reduce potential complications of diabetes including heart disease and stroke.
Frequency Aim to be physically active on most days of the week. Focus on aerobic activities on three days of the week. Perform resistance training two days per week.
Intensity Always start low and go slow. Reducing the amount of time you are inactive is a great way to start. Aim for a pace that allows you to carry on a conversation throughout the activity.
Time Try for 150 minutes of physical activity per week. This equals about 30 minutes, five days per week. If you wish, start with small 10-minute sessions of physical activity at a time.
Type Be sure to include both aerobic and resistance training as part of your physical activity routine. Aerobic activity includes things like golfing, walking the dog or gardening. As you improve, challenge yourself. Try a short hike or dive into the pool for some laps.
Resistance training exercises build your muscle strength. You can do them with or without weights. If you are using weights, always start low with three to five pounds, and work your way up. Aim to work many muscle groups with one exercise. Try for eight to 10 repetitions of the movement, and repeat them two or three times (as sets).
Final tips - If you experience diabetic foot neuropathy (pins and needles in your feet), be sure to speak to your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Those with this condition must wear good shoes to prevent blisters that could later lead to ulcers. Checking your feet regularly helps to keep them healthy.
Managing your blood glucose can be a challenging part of living with diabetes. Aim to exercise at least one hour after eating, when blood glucose tends to be higher.
Monitor your blood glucose level before and frequently after exercise to see how your body responds. Finally, always carry plenty of water and snacks rich in carbohydrate with you.
While beginning an exercise program can be daunting, physical activity is a key part of successfully managing a chronic condition. Talk with your doctor about how an exercise prescription can improve your health.