Tired of pounding the pavement or looking for a fun way to get active? Trail running may be the sport for you. More and more people are heading to the mountains, the veld and the forests to get away from the city, spend time in nature and run free.
More than just a work-out
Trail running is good for the body, mind and soul. It’s also good for the wallet – except for the price of running shoes, it doesn’t cost a thing. Trail running is different to road running because the ground you’re running on changes all the time and isn’t flat and hard like a road. It helps “proprioception”, our sense of balance and body awareness. It also develops strength in muscles and joints, and gives you stronger ankles and hip joints. Softer surfaces like grass, sand, and gravel are easier on the joints than tar. Trail running will help you burn more calories and shed fat faster as your body uses a greater amount of energy to use more muscles to move on the uneven surface. Paying attention to each step you take will also distract your mind from your everyday To Do list (always a good thing!) Don’t forget to stop for a moment, breathe in the fresh air, and give thanks for where you are.
Although there is less risk of injury with trail running than road running, it’s a good idea in the beginning to include some exercises in your routine to strengthen your core, pelvic muscles, legs, knees and ankles to cope with the impact to these parts of the body. Follow a careful training programme where you can gradually build up your distance and speed. It’s important to be aware of your diabetic needs while you’re trail running, too. Don’t push yourself too hard in the beginning, and make sure you snack before you start running so that your blood sugar doesn’t go low while you’re on the trail.
When you’re trail running, it’s important to look where you’re going – vehicle tracks, puddles, logs and rocks are all obstacles that can trip you up, and low-hanging tree branches need to be ducked in time.
Here are some tips for different types of terrain:
Sand is difficult to run on, especially when it’s loose. Don’t run in a straight line, rather search for the firmest footing. The harder sand can usually be found on the very edge of the trail.
Muddy surfaces can be slippery, be careful!
Rocky trails mean you need to lift your legs higher to avoid tripping. Try to step lightly with a flat foot, so that if it’s not stable or you slip, you can quickly move your foot.
Forest paths can hide rocks and roots. Be on the lookout and avoid stepping on them if you you can.
Looking for runs in you area? Take a look at www.nightjartravel.com/trail-running
Want to see more of our favourite trails? Visit www.sweetlifemag.co.za/community
Expert tip: Get the right shoes.
Ask the expert: Nelfrie Kemp, Podiatry Association of South Africa
The most important tip when taking up any running is to buy the right shoes and make sure they fit properly. Foot care is vital if you have diabetes. When fitting a running shoe, choose a pair one size larger than your normal shoe size as your feet swell when you exercise. It’s a good idea to use sport socks that are thick from toe to heel and fit you perfectly. This will help prevent pins and needles or a burning sensation in the feet. Preferably wear ankle-height socks as secret socks can move and curl up under your foot, which can cause blisters. Always tie your laces, but make sure that it they are not tied too loosely or tightly.
Get more diabetic foot tips at www.podiatrist.co.za
Expert tip: Be aware
Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
- As well as the trail running, do some balance training either at home or in the gym by doing single leg exercises or balancing on wobble boards.
- Use your whole body while you are trail running: your arms for balance and support, your core to help draw your legs up for climbing the rocky parts, and a mid-foot to front-of-foot strike with shorter, quicker strides for more control and adjustment.
- Pay close attention to what you eat and drink before and during the run, especially on longer runs. Always have something sweet on you in case your blood sugar goes low, and never run alone.
- Know the route you are running by mapping the route on GPS. It will give you a good idea of the height you may be climbing and the exact distance you will be covering. Remember to start with shorter routes and slowly build up distance.
No matter the season exercising outdoors beats running on a treadmill in the gym. If you want to keep fit and have a social life, then soccer, touch rugby or rounders is the answer. Nicole McCreedy tells us how to get started.
The beauty of ball sports is that they’re so easy to learn. All you need to do is find an open space to play, organize some equipment and two teams, and learn a few basic rules. While your focus is on winning, you’ll be walking, running and laughing your way to better health.
The basics of touch rugby are similar to the traditional version of the game – the ball is passed backwards during play. However, in touch rugby you don’t tackle your opponent but rather touch the person running with the ball on any part of their body, clothing or the ball itself using your hand. Because touch rugby is less physical, women can also play without fear of injury. Once touched, the player in possession of the ball is required to stop, return to the mark where the touch occurred and perform a ‘rollball’ without delay. Facing the defending try-line the player rolls the ball between his/her legs. After six touches the ball is handed over from the attacking team to the defending team and the game starts again from the halfway line in the centre of the field. The aim is to score a touchdown over the defending team’s try-line. Five to six players are on one team at a time, and a game lasts for about forty minutes per side.
A game of soccer can be as simple as kicking the ball around with a few friends. Players dribble the ball on the ground, kicking it to pass to each other. For most games, there are eleven players per team – the goalkeeper is the only player allowed to use his/her hands. Teams are made up of defenders, midfielders and forwards. Two defenders patrol the left and right area while the two central defenders play in the middle. The midfielders play both defence and attack, and the forward positions focus on scoring the goals. The centre forwards play in the middle flanked on each side by a wing. In soccer be aware of the offside rule. If you are behind the other team’s defenders without the ball, you are offside. But if the ball is kicked past the defenders, you can pass them. Laduuuuuuuma!
To play rounders you need a small ball (a tennis ball will do) and some kind of bat. There must be a minimum of six players per team. A match consists of two innings, giving each team a chance to bat and bowl. An innings is over when the last batter is caught out, and each person on the team gets a chance to bat. When bowling, the ball must not bounce and it must be above the batter’s knee, below the batter’s head, and not at the batter’s body. The batter hits the ball and then runs in a circle, passing a series of markers on the way. A ‘rounder’ is when the batter makes it all the way around the circuit in one hit of the ball. The team with the most rounders wins. A batter is out if the ball is caught before it hits the ground or if the ball is fielded before the batter reaches a marker. A batter who has missed the ball can run to the first marker and then continue to the next three when the next batsman strikes the ball. Only one person can stand at a base at a time.
Team ball sports are a great cardiovascular workout because they increase your heart rate. They are particularly good for people with diabetes because the body uses up extra glucose and decreases resistance to insulin. Muscle strength, endurance and eye-coordination also improve. Best of all? You lose weight while having a ball!
Ask the expert: Anette Thompson, Podiatrist shoes or barefoot?
SEMDSA, the Society for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa, recently released 2012 guidelines which state that a person living with diabetes should not walk or run barefoot. There are a number of reasons for this – even well controlled, highly active people who have not developed any complications will experience a delay in healing if their skin punctures or cracks. Any break in the skin is a potential entry point for infection: bacterial, viral or fungal.
The goal is to wear footwear that most closely approaches the benefits of being barefoot. ‘Barefoot-like’ sports shoes allow maximum flexibility and give the feet the most natural workout. The benefits are improved blood flow to the feet and lower limbs, which feeds nerves and muscles during exercise. Ensure that the shoes are wide enough, as well as being the correct size. It’s a good idea to invest in good quality socks as well.
You only get one pair of feet – take good care of them.
Sport tips Sarah Hall, Biokeniticist
When playing outdoor sports, especially those you’re not used to, keep these tips in mind:
- A sport specific warm up is essential. Try and focus on the muscle groups you’re about to use and make sure that you pay particular attention to those during your warm up. If you’re about to play soccer, try to loosen up the ankle joints with some ankle circle exercises. Stretch the groin muscles with some lunges and do a couple of lengths of sideways shuffle running along the field.
- Wear supportive footgear to support your feet and cushion the rest of your body as you run.
- Be as prepared as possible. Make sure you have enough water for the extended length of time of play. You must also keep some fast acting snacks handy as the game, although fun, may use up more energy than you think.
Want to have a more flexible body and improve your circulation? Nicole McCreedy tells us why stretching should be part of everyone’s day.
When we’re young, it’s easy to imagine that our bodies will always do what they’re told. But as we age, our muscles tighten and all of a sudden something as easy as bending over to pick up your keys might be a struggle. Stretching is important because it keeps the body flexible and allows your joints to move through their full range of motion. Here’s all you need to know to keep flexible.
For people with diabetes, improving circulation is essential for maintaining good health. Because stretching increases blood flow to the muscles, specifically the legs, it is great for circulation, but that’s not all. Regular stretching will increase nutrients to the muscles, improve your co-ordination, lengthen your muscles, reduce lower back pain, and even increase your energy levels.
How to stretch
While you can stretch anytime, anywhere – in your home or at work – you want to be sure to do it safely. Each stretch should be done in a slow and controlled manner till you feel ‘mild discomfort’. If it feels painful, you’ve stretched too far. Do not bounce or force the stretch.
Ideally, you should stretch before you start exercising. To avoid injury, first warm up your muscles. Run on the spot for a few minutes or do some jumping jacks to get your blood flowing and increase your heart rate. Stretch again at the end of your training sessions to help your muscles recover.
Types of stretching
What kind of stretching you choose to do will depend on your fitness and flexibility.
Static stretching is the most common form and is safe for beginners. Give this a try: to stretch the back of your upper thigh lie down on your back. Lift your right leg up in the air, heel facing the ceiling. Make sure that your lower back stays in contact with the floor and the left leg remains straight on the floor. Grip your raised leg with both hands. You may be comfortable holding your thigh, or you may be able to clasp your knee. Do what feels best for you. Keep your head and neck relaxed. Hold for 30 seconds or less. Change legs.
Passive stretching means you are using something outside yourself to help you stretch. Here’s a passive stretch to try: Relax the muscle you are trying to stretch and rely on a strap, gravity, another person, or your own body weight to stretch the muscle gently. Make sure you are well balanced before you start stretching!
Passive stretching is useful for those who have been injured or are frail. A recent study has found that passive stretching can help regulate blood glucose and is beneficial in treating people who are less physically able.
Dynamic stretching is moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly. Take shoulder circles for instance: stand tall, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Lift your right shoulder towards your right ear, take it backwards, down and then up again to the ear in a smooth action. Repeat six to ten times. Do the same with the left shoulder. What you are doing is actively contracting the muscle in the opposition position to the one that you are stretching.
Love stretching and want to take it further? Try yoga or pilates – both involve active stretching. With yoga, the postures are timed with the breath and are designed to put pressure on the glandular system. In pilates, the sequence of movements focuses on strengthening your core muscles – the deep, internal muscles of the abdomen and back.
What to keep in mind while stretching – Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
Remember that – just like people – each muscle group and joint is individual.
- Make sure that you warm up before you do any activity, and stretch afterwards as well. A quick rule of thumb is to stretch a muscle only if it is tight.
- Do not stretch in such a way that you put another joint or muscle at risk of injury.
- Try to isolate a muscle when stretching. If you are working the hamstring, do not put weight on that leg. Breathe into the stretch to allow the benefits of the stretch to move through that muscle.
- Decide on a reason for stretching a particular muscle: is it to relax, release tightness or restore length to the muscle? Aim to stretch each muscle for between 10 and 30 seconds.
Ask the expert: Dr. Zaheer Bayat, Endocrinologist
Exercise is good for everybody. But for those with diabetes, there are added benefits:
- Exercise lowers glucose levels as muscles require more glucose for fuel.
- Exercise helps in losing weight, which in turn improves morale. Not only will you feel better, you will also look good.
- Exercise improves insulin sensitivity. This can go a long way to stabilizing blood sugar levels
When starting any exercise program, it is important to spend a few minutes stretching, which will help lessen the risk of doing damage to yourself.
Ask the expert: Prof. Wayne Derman, Professor of Sports and Exercise Medicine
“Flexibility is an important part of fitness, so stretching should be included in any exercise programme. It’s also a great way to manage and prevent muscle cramps. Not sure what to do? Get a physio, biokineticist or trainer to assist you with the right stretches for the muscle groups in which you are particularly tight.”
It’s more than just good for you. Nicole McCreedy tells us why.
Regardless of the type of diabetes you have, your doctor is likely to recommend a combination of diet, exercise and, if necessary, medication to help control your blood sugar levels. Many studies have shown that adopting a healthy lifestyle is effective in treating diabetes.
Being newly diagnosed with diabetes can be overwhelming at first. For some, doctor’s orders to exercise regularly may feel like a big obstacle to overcome on this new journey. But don’t stress if you’re someone who can’t recall the last time the word exercise passed your lips: even small steps in the right direction count.
The decision to exercise is the first step to better health. “Exercise is literally the best medicine,” according to biokineticist, Sarah Hall. “This is not saying you can stop taking what the doctor has prescribed,” she advises, “but exercise will generally improve your health, decrease your stress levels, help with weight loss and improve your wellbeing.”
No matter what your medical condition, there is usually some form of exercise that you can do. Make an effort to find an activity that you like, and are able to perform at your current level of health and fitness. This will make it a much easier habit to keep.
Diabetes educator, Kate Bristow, has put together a list of five activities suitable for people with diabetes you can consider trying out:
Walking briskly for thirty minutes, five days a week is the global recommendation for all adults – with or without diabetes. For exercise “newbies”, you can break this up into shorter sessions throughout the day. In fact, a recent study from New Zealand found that taking a ten-minute stroll immediately after a meal may be better for lowering blood sugar levels than a full half hour session once a day.
Cycle for 15 to 30 minutes three times per week. Maintain your heart rate at no more than 65 to 75% of your max, which is a great way to increase your blood circulation and the demands on your body gently. Depending on where you live, consider using a bicycle to commute to work or to nearby places you need to visit. Not only is it a good way to increase your daily level of activity; it can also make the trip more interesting.
Low intensity whole body weight training helps the body to absorb sugar (glucose) into the muscles. As a result, your body becomes more sensitive to insulin and this can lower blood sugar levels. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn – even when your body is at rest. Preventing muscle loss with weight or strength training is also the key to maintaining an independent lifestyle as you age. Get help from a qualified professional who can supervise you while performing the exercises. To start, your weight training programme may include two to three sets of 15 repetitions (reps) for each muscle group twice a week.
Tai Chi or Beginner Yoga are both forms of exercise that allow for gentle movements, through breathing and controlled contraction of the muscles of the entire body. It is best, when first learning either of these disciplines, to join a class so that you learn the correct, safe techniques. A beginner class is approximately 45 minutes. Let the instructor know if you are new to the class, so that they know to help you with the postures.
Swimming allows once again for the whole body to be involved, with movement performed in a supportive environment. As long as you take regular breathing and rest breaks, you will see rewarding results.
Tips from biokineticist Sarah Hall:
- Don’t begin something that you cannot commit to – financially or time-wise.
- Exercise, to be beneficial, needs to be regular and sustained.
- Any little bit of regular exercise is better than none at all.
- Start slowly and build it up – there is no point in hurting yourself in the first session.
- When you begin an exercise programme, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor – especially those with health risk and those who are a bit older.
- Exercise can lower your blood sugar levels and the effects can last up to two days after, therefore it is important to test regularly especially before and up to four hours after exercise and understand the effect exercise has on your own levels.
- Know how to manage a low sugar level if it happens.
- Set realistic, clear and concise goals.
No matter what kind of exercise you choose, your body will thank you!
Not a natural fitness fanatic? Don’t worry about it! Susan Erasmus shows how even the most determined couch potato can get some exercise this winter.
If the thought of going to the gym makes you curl up under the duvet and reach for the TV remote, you’re not alone. The good news is that anything that gets your heart rate up and gets you out of your comfort zone counts as exercise. We all know how good getting active is for us: it relieves stress, prevents colds, reduces diabetic complications, promotes heart health and keeps your weight in check…
But can it be fun? Here are 10 easy ways to sneak exercise into everyday life:
Follow the 1km rule.
Unless you’re in a tearing hurry, it’s pouring with rain or it’s the middle of the night, don’t take the car if your destination is less than a kilometre away. Just 10 minutes of walking a day will cut your heart disease risk by half, according to the Mayo Clinic in the USA. “Weight-bearing exercise like walking will also make your bones stronger,” says biokineticist Sarah Hall.
Top tip: Get a pedometer so you can track your progress and count how many steps you take each day.
Play with your kids.
Kids are like Energizer bunnies: they just keep going. Why not join them – even if it’s only for twenty minutes in the park? Ball games or a game of frisbee are a fun way to take your mind off the fact that you’re getting exercise… Best of all? Your kids will love it too!
Move your feet.
It’s as easy as pacing while you talk on the phone (instead of slouching in your chair), walking to the furthest toilets, making the trek to the printer at work or getting up off the couch to change the channel on the TV. Take every opportunity to move your feet and you’ll be surprised how much more active you feel!
Take the stairs… Every time.
The beauty of taking the stairs instead of the lift is that even if it’s raining outside, you’re still doing your daily exercise. You don’t have to climb 20 floors if you work in a high-rise, but even one or two floors will have you feeling stronger than you did before.
Top tip: Watch your posture as you climb the stairs, and ground your heel on each step so you don’t stretch your calf muscles too much.
Walk the dog.
A 20 minute walk with your dog will not only make your pet happy but take you out in the fresh air and get your heart pumping. Make a promise to walk your dog every day – before or after work – and see how quickly your fitness improves.
Make your garden greener.
You don’t have to start chopping down trees or clearing bushes – a bit of light weeding, planting and raking for half an hour a few times a week is all it takes to loosen up the muscles.
Take two wheels, instead of four.
Riding a bike to work or school is not only good for your health, but also for the environment – and your wallet, seeing as you’ll spend less on petrol. As an added bonus, you’ll never have to search for parking again…
Dancing is a fantastic workout – and so much fun you won’t even notice it! You also get to dress up, not down, and being out of breath is part of the fun… Even if it’s freezing outside, you can still work up a sweat dancing – and you never know who you might meet on the dance floor…
Top tip: Dancing is a great way to become more supple. The more we rest, the stiffer we get. So dance away!
Rethink the way you work
Instead of slumping into your office chair every day, why not invest in an exercise ball – it’s not only more fun to sit on, it will also strengthen your core muscles. Another option that is becoming more and more popular is a standing desk, where you’re on your feet all day instead of in a chair.
Laugh it off.
Looking for the most fun way to strengthen your stomach muscles? Rent a funny DVD, go to a live comedy show, or spend some time with a friend who cracks you up. Laughter is a fantastic form of exercise, and the best possible way to get fit!
Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
“It’s very important to set yourself a definite goal if you want to get fit. This can be done by exercising with a friend, hiring a trainer, or just setting your own personal goal. If possible, a fitness test from a professional can help you deal with an old injury or a medical condition (like diabetes).”
Who said exercise had to be at the gym? Here are some fun ways to get active without even noticing it.
The joy of dancing is that it’s good exercise, but so much fun that you won’t even notice you’re getting fit… Much better than trying to jog around the block! Dancing is, at heart, both art and sport. If you’ve been tempted to pull some moves like you’ve seen on TV’s Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance, but haven’t managed to make the move from the couch to the dance floor, this is the year to do it!
Why dancing is good for you
What many people don’t realise is that dancing has a number of health benefits. Dance is a full mind and body workout that burns calories and lowers your heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol. As with all kinds of exercise, dancing makes the body more sensitive to insulin, which means the insulin works better in your system. Because dancing is a weight-bearing activity, where the body works against gravity, it can also help strengthen bones, improve balance, posture and coordination. Dancing offers the opportunity to socialise and make friends, and moving your feet to a good tune can be a real pick-me-up. Apart from reducing stress, the biggest benefit of dancing is that it is fun (lots of fun!)
How to get involved
Whether you like to jive, tap, or tango, shake your belly or let yourself go to the beat, there’s a style of dancing that’s right for you. Different types of dance include ballroom, ballet, nia, afro-fusion, hip-hop and free dance, among others. The first step is to have a plan. Ask yourself what style of dance you think you might enjoy – do you like something more formal, or free? Then, consider how much time you can spare in your week, how fit you are and if you have any pre-existing injuries.
Once you know what you want, it’s time to find it! Check community noticeboards and local gyms to find out when and where classes or events are being held, and invite a friend to go with you if you feel too shy to go to the first class on your own. Convinced you have two left feet? Take lessons. Most dance studios hold beginners’ courses and welcome people with disabilities. Learning a new skill can be a real confidence booster and if you start now, you’ll definitely have new skills to show off at your end-of-year Christmas party!
What to wear
Wear comfortable clothing that gives you freedom of movement and shoes that fit the dance form. Some classes, like ballet, tap or jazz, might need special footwear depending on your level. Avoid wearing jewellery, as earrings, rings and necklaces can scratch you or get caught in clothing. Most importantly? Wear a smile.
How to warm up
Remember that because dancing isn’t the same movements that you do in daily life, you need to warm the body up and treat the dance hour like an exercise session, with a warm-up, movement preparation, dance, and cool down. Once you’ve done your warm-up and you understand the main demands of the type of dance you’re doing, you can let your body go and enjoy.
Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
Here’s how to warm up for each of these dance styles:
Ballroom: A large focus of ballroom is technique and posture, so you need to ensure that in your warm-up you help lengthen your spine. The goal is to engage your neck, shoulder blades and core muscles, so that you reduce strain and tension from this form of dancing.
Nia: This dance is about moving with balance, without too much effort. It is a combination of yoga, modern dance, jazz and tai chi. A whole body warm-up with deep breathing would be best here.
Ballet: Although rhythmic and seemingly calm, ballet is one of the most demanding kinds of dance. Muscle endurance, power and strength, as well as flexibility of joints, are all required. Before starting ballet classes, it’s a good idea to try a few one-on-one classes or test out the poses so you know how far you can move.
Hip-Hop: This is an extremely physical but hugely enjoyable dance form. Hip-hop uses movements that require strength and balance to control your body weight. Body weight exercises that prepare the body for this challenge, like dips, push-ups, sit-ups, lunges and squats, would be great to include in your warm-up. It’s also a good idea to strengthen and protect the spine because it’s such a high impact form of dance.
Free dance: Spontaneous and with no choreography, free dance has no rules and boundaries. So it’s important to combine the tips of all the types of dance above and ensure that you follow the structure from the warm-up to the cool down.
Ask the expert: Fiona Prins, Diabetes Educator
“Being active helps control blood sugar levels, so when you have diabetes it’s really important to exercise. As a rule, aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Regular physical activity will help keep your weight down, reduce blood pressure, raise good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL) in the bloodstream. Other benefits of exercise include being able to sleep better and better health in general.”
Getting active every day can feel like a bit too much to ask for… Which is why Cindy Tilney’s asked the experts to give us easy ways to keep fit – no matter how old you are!
We all know exercise is good for us, but exercising to the max – especially in later life – can be too much of a good thing. It’s essential not to stress the body by exercising too hard, says Professor Wayne Derman, the Director of the U-Turn Chronic Disease Lifestyle Rehabilitation Programme based at the UCT Sports Science Institute of South Africa. “When planning an exercise routine, it’s important to consider any medical condition you might have, as well as any medication you’re taking and how it may affect you while exercising,” says Prof. Derman.
Older age also comes with a bigger chance of aches and pains because of problems like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis – if these names ring a bell, it’s a good idea to be more careful about the kind of exercise you choose, and to consult a medical professional (a biokineticist, physiotherapist or sports physician) when planning an exercise routine. Be sure to check if any medications you are on will interfere with this routine, reminds Prof. Derman.
“It’s essential to go for a health check and orthopaedic assessment before starting any exercise programme,” says biokineticist, Sarah Hall.
Get checked for:
- Cardiac weakness
- Any existing injuries
- High blood pressure
- Ischaemia (restriction in blood supply)
- Uncontrolled diabetes
Also be aware that falls are more likely if your balance isn’t what it used to be.
The right kind of exercise has benefits for every chronic condition, says Prof. Derman. But watch out for:
- Feeling breathless to the point that you can’t talk when exercising
- Any pain.
“The saying ‘no pain no gain’ is not true,” he says. “Your body should be in a state of relative comfort while exercising.”
So what should you do?
It’s important to include all of these steps in an optimal exercise programme, as they all have different functions, say Derman and Hall. These include:
- The warm up: This involves stretching and preparing your body for exercise.
- Flexibility training/stretching: This focuses on increasing the range of motion of the joints and stretching the body to release tension in the major muscle groups – calves, quads, glutes, hamstrings, back, chest and arms.
- The aerobic phase: Involves movement of the large muscle groups to increase the heart rate. It can be walking, jogging, cycling, aqua aerobics or rowing, for example.
- Muscle strength resistance training: Using elastic bands or circuit training to make muscles stronger. This is particularly important for people with diabetes, as it can help the muscles involved in the absorption of insulin to become more sensitive, which helps blood sugar control.
- Stability training: Exercises like plank position that help balance and core stability.
- The cool down: This involves stretching and relaxation to allow the heart rate to go back to normal and the body to return to a resting state.
Remember: The goal is to exercise 20 to 30 minutes on most days of the week.
3 Top tips for people with diabetes:
- Don’t begin exercising if your blood sugar is either too high or too low (over 16 or below 4.8).
- If you are using insulin, always take something sweet with you when you exercise, in case of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
- Avoid injecting into large muscle groups just before exercising.
What kind of exercise is best for older people with diabetes?
We asked biokineticist Sarah Hall to give us a sample exercise routine. Here’s what she said:
Warm up: 5-10 minute brisk walk
Stretch: Standing calf and quad stretch, chest, shoulder and bicep stretch, lying down hamstring stretch and cat stretch for the back
Aerobic: Step for 2 minutes
Muscle strength: Like bicep curls, wall push-ups and abdominal crunches (sit-ups)
Aerobic: Walk or jog on the spot for 2 minutes
Stability: Plank position
Cool down: Repeat stretches
Who said getting fit has to be a big project? With these five 20-minute workouts, you’ll be on your way to getting active in minutes! Daniel Sher shows us how.
Let’s be honest: most of us have a lot of things on our To Do Lists, and exercising is not the one we want to do most! Our busy lifestyles often get in the way of our health, but how hard is it, really, to get active? Exercising can be easier than you think – there’s no need to run marathons or spend hours at the gym. In fact, a recent study* showed that just twenty minutes of daily exercise is enough to lose weight and control your diabetes better. Here are five simple ways to get active that only take twenty minutes to complete. We all have twenty minutes every day… Why not use them to feel great?
- Before (or after!) work
It might be a part of everyday life, but walking is also a great way to exercise. Taking a walk is a simple and relaxing way to get your heart rate up. Beaches, forests, parks and rivers are all great for a refreshing twenty minute walk, but a quick stroll through your neighbourhood can be just as enjoyable. Choose a time for your daily walk – twenty minutes before work, for example – and try to do this every day. Walk quickly and keep things interesting by changing which way you go from time to time. Join up with a few friends and it will make your walk even more fun.
Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
“It’s important to practise correct posture when you walk. Follow these tips: walk tall, imagine a piece of string pulling you from the top of your head, lengthening your spine, and use your arms so that you have more power.”
- On your way to work
Most people sit in a taxi, bus or car to get to work. Believe it or not, this is a great opportunity to get some exercise! If you live close to your workplace, choose to walk, jog or cycle instead. And if your home is too far away, get out of the taxi a few stops early, or park further away than usual. Using your morning commute to exercise can help you save time, and also make you feel refreshed for the day ahead. Choosing to walk home (or part of the way home) after work can help to burn away the day’s stress and clear your mind.
Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
“Buy a pedometer and track how many steps you take and the time it takes you to get from home to work. This is a great way to figure out how active you are during the day, and to encourage you to work on beating your own time and setting your own goals.”
- In the office
Quiet times at work are ideal for a quick workout: you can do an easy muscle-toning routine while sitting at your desk. Start by tightening your three main muscle groups, one at a time (legs, stomach and arms). Begin with a deep breath and clench your legs for five seconds; then take a breather for ten seconds before tightening up your stomach muscles for five seconds. Take another breather, and finish by clenching your arms and chest, which you tighten by pressing your palms together as if you’re praying. Repeat this routine until twenty minutes are up for a quick and easy muscle workout!
Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
“Add a few arm and neck stretches as well! Hold your drawer, roll your shoulders back and down, and lengthen your spine whilst you sit.”
- At home
We all make excuses to stay inside: it might be raining, you might have a lot of chores to do, or the TV might be calling your name. Don’t let this stop you from getting your twenty minutes of exercise – you can easily transform your household routines into a workout. When you’re talking on the phone, pace around the house or climb up and down stairs, rather than sitting down. What about your errands? Sweeping, mopping, scrubbing and washing can give you a great workout and a clean house at the same time. Feel like watching your favourite TV show? No problem – use this time to jog lightly on the spot, whilst gently punching your arms in front of you like you’re boxing. Just be sure to pull the curtains so your neighbours don’t think you’re crazy!
Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
“Treat this just like any other exercise session. Start with the easy tasks first, then stretch. Follow this with the activities that get your heart rate up, and then end with the chores that involve lifting things. Remember: if you are treating it as a workout, don’t forget to cool down and stretch at the end.”
- On the weekend
If you’re looking for a simple way to exercise and to have fun at the same time, dancing might be the answer. And what better time to dance than on the weekend? Listen to your favourite playlist, focus on letting loose and try to enjoy yourself – before you know it you’ll have worked up a sweat. If you know any ballroom steps ask a partner to join you for twenty minutes – fast-paced dances like the swing, salsa or tango are all great for increasing your heart rate. If you don’t know any dance moves, make up your own! Nobody’s watching…
Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
“Dancing can be a great way to challenge your balance and a useful way to become aware of any imbalances between the left and right side of the body.”
How does exercise help diabetes? Exercise is recommended for most people, but an active lifestyle is especially helpful for diabetics. Why? Exercise can:
– Help your body to use insulin better.
– Prevent cardiovascular (heart) disease and other diabetes-related complications.
– Reduce stress and anxiety, which makes it easier to manage your condition.
– Improve your blood sugar control.
* In the September 2012 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Looking for a sport that’s relaxing and good for you? Yoga is not only a fantastic form of strengthening exercise, it’s also great for calming the mind – something most diabetics need! Here are some simple poses to try at home.
As a diabetic, the one thing you’re told over and over is that exercise is good for you. And it is! But sometimes exercise feels a bit too much like hard work. Now that the weather is colder it’s hard to get out for a walk or a run, and gym is not for everyone. That doesn’t mean you can sit back and wait for the weather to warm up, though! Yoga has just the right mix of strengthening, balancing and heart-racing poses, and you should take a few quiet minutes to lie down at the end of each class. Yes, that’s right! Exercise that makes you lie down!
There are specific reasons why yoga is good for people with diabetes, too. Yoga teacher Tasha Saha explains: “As well as better fitness and cardiovascular (heart and vein) health, yoga massages and increases the function of the internal organs, balances the endocrine system and has great effects on the release of stress hormones,” she says. “All of these are factors that affect blood sugar, so it’s no surprise that a number of big studies have shown that regular yoga can reduce blood sugar levels.” Another part of yoga that sets it apart from other exercise is that it increases body awareness – understanding how your body feels – which makes it easier to stay at a healthy weight and to make better food choices.
But which yoga to choose? In general, hot yoga (Bikram) and flow yoga (Ashtanga) are more difficult, so it’s better to begin with a slower practice like Hatha or Iyengar. Some poses (especially those that are active in the belly and lower back) are particularly good for diabetics because they target the pancreas, which can help to lower blood sugar levels. “But a balanced yoga session will work on every system in the body,” says Tasha, “as well as the mind and emotions too – lowering stress levels and helping you towards balance.” As every diabetic knows, balance is the magic word!
Here are a few yoga poses to try at home – these are very good for lowering blood sugar. If you can’t get to the full pose, go as far as you can. As you become more flexible, you will be able to stretch more. If something is sore, stop! Yoga should never be painful.
Seated twisting poses and forward bends
These stimulate the digestive organs and help the insulin work better in the system.
Seated forward bend
First: Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Flex your feet and press down through your heels. Place your hands on the floor next to your hips and sit up straight, opening your chest.
Then: Take a deep breath in, and without curving your back, lean forward from the hips, not the waist. Either hold on to your feet or use a strap around the soles of your feet. Make sure your elbows are straight, not bent. Be careful not to pull yourself down – you want to lengthen the spine, not force it. Keep your head raised and aim to get your belly touching your thighs, and then your ribs. This might take a few months!
Finally: When you’re ready to come up, lift the body away from the thighs, take a deep breath in and slowly straighten up. Stay in this pose for: 1 to 3 minutes.
Half Lord of the fishes
First: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Slide your left foot under your right leg to the outside of your right hip, with your left leg on the floor. Step your right foot over your left leg and place it on the floor outside your left hip. The right knee will point up to the ceiling.
Then: Exhale and twist your body towards the inside of your right thigh. Press your right hand against the floor behind you, and your left upper arm on the outside of your right thigh near the knee. Stay in this position, breathing deeply, then exhale and release.
Finally: Return to the position you started with, and repeat on the other side for the same length of time.
Stay in this pose for: 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Standing poses and flow poses
Any pose where you have to stand or flow from one pose to another is excellent for the blood and heart systems.
First: Stand up straight, with your feet together and your hands at your side. Breathe out, and step your feet apart, as wide as you can while still feeling balanced. Turn your left foot in 45 degrees, and your right foot out 90 degrees. Make sure the right heel and the left heel are in line with each other.
Then: Breathe out, and rotate your body till you are facing over the front foot. Raise your arms over your head, and reach towards the ceiling. Drop your shoulders and arch your upper back a little. With your back heel firmly pressing into the floor, breathe out and bend your front knee over your front ankle.
Finally: Reach through your arms and, if possible, bring the palms together. Keep your head looking forward or looking up at your thumbs.
Stay in this pose for: 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Poses which ground the body
These help to refresh the pancreas, liver and other abdominal organs.
First: Lie on your belly with your arms on either side, palms facing up, and your forehead resting on the floor. Turn your big toes towards each other and clench your butt.
Then: Exhale and lift your head, upper body, arms, and legs off the floor (this may take some practice!) Firm your butt and strengthen your legs. Raise your arms and stretch back through your fingers. Look ahead, but be careful not to stick your chin out. Keep the back of your neck long.
Finally: Breathe out and release. Take a few breaths and repeat (if you want to!)
Stay in this pose for: 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Poses where the feet are higher than the head.
These direct the flow of blood towards the pancreas and relieve pressure in the feet.
First: Lie with your back on the floor, in as straight a line as possible, with your legs up against the wall in a 90 degree angle (your body should form half of a square). Rest your shoulders on the floor and allow a small gap between your hips and the wall.
Then: Rest in this pose.
Finally: When you’re ready to come out of it, turn to the side for a few breaths and then come up into a sitting position.
Stay in this pose for: 5 to 15 minutes.
Want to give it a try? Many yoga studios offer free classes to beginners. Most gyms also offer yoga classes at a fraction of the price of private classes.
“Remember that everyone is different, so the range you will be able to work into will be different in each pose. It’s a good idea to start with a one-on-one yoga session so that you learn how your joints and muscles work within a safe range of motion. That way, you’ll be in control of the intensity and can adjust it for your fitness levels.”
– Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
Are you struggling to carry your shopping? Does moving boxes make you groan? Nicole McCreedy has the answer: simple weight training.
A simple weight training programme can make these everyday chores much easier for you – and get you in great shape. How? Well, lifting weights challenges your muscles, causing them to adapt and get stronger. Strength training builds strong muscles, bones and connective tissue. Not only does this help prevent osteoporosis and muscle loss as one gets older, it is also one of the most natural ways for people with diabetes to improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.
Weight training and diabetes
When you eat carbohydrate, it breaks down into smaller sugars (glucose, fructose and galactose) that get absorbed and used as energy. Any glucose that is not used gets stored in the muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen. Once the glycogen stores are filled up, any extra gets stored as fat. During exercise, the stored glycogen is transported to the active muscle to burn as fuel. Because muscle burns more kilojoules than fat, more muscle and less fat means better insulin use and glucose storage.
Lean muscle also boosts the metabolism and enables your body to burn kilojoules at a faster rate – even after you have finished exercising. A faster metabolism helps insulin to work better.
Getting started at home
Does the thought of weight training make you feel weak at the knees? Then start by learning the lingo before training at home.
A strength training workout is broken down into exercises, repetitions and sets. An exercise is a specific movement that works a muscle group. A rep, or repetition, is one complete motion. For example, to do a bicep curl repetition hold the weight or dumbbell at your shoulder then lower it in a controlled movement as you count to four. Lift the weight back to the starting or recovery position counting to six. A set is the number of repetitions performed together separated by a short rest period.
A workout plan
The next step is to set goals. Goals are a good way to keep yourself motivated. Do you want to tone your body, improve your strength or increase your endurance? Be realistic: results take time. Take photographs or simple body measurements every six to eight weeks to help you notice gradual changes.
Your aim in the beginning should be to develop the right technique. Maintaining the correct posture, while lifting a suitable weight, is important to prevent injuries. Try this side bend in front of the mirror: in one hand hold a weight along the side of your body. Slowly bend sideways sliding the weight toward your knees. Straighten up again. Check that you are not leaning backwards or forwards.
Weighing up the options
You can either buy hand-held (free) weights to use at home or you can improvise. Grab a tin of canned food from the cupboard to start. If that is too light, use a full 1 litre water bottle or a 2 litre milk bottle. Fill with sand to make the bottles heavier. If you are fairly strong, then fill two buckets with sand and try this squat: stand with your feet hip or shoulder width apart and hold a bucket by the handle in each hand. Then bend your knees and lower yourself into a squat, as though you are about to sit in a chair. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure your knees do not go beyond your toes. Exhale as you stand up slowly. Repeat without locking your knees.
The amount of weight you use depends on what you want to achieve and how strong you are. Choose a weight that allows you to do the repetitions you want to do without too much strain – only the last few repetitions in the set should feel like a struggle. The idea is that you give the muscle more to lift than it is used to. As the muscles grow stronger, you need to increase the weight until you reach your goal.
Stronger muscles will not only make your daily load feel lighter, but will also help prevent minor accidents from becoming serious injuries.
Ask the expert: Dr. Joel Dave, Endocrinologist
General advice for diabetics:
- Before embarking on any weight- lifting programme, first discuss it with your doctor.
- Do not lift any weights if you have proliferative retinopathy, severe non-proliferative retinopathy or a severe peripheral neuropathy
- Do not lift weights if you have any foot injury or open skin lesions on the feet.
- Wear adequate protective footwear at all times.
- At your first session check how the exercise affects your blood glucose so that you will know what to expect in the future.
- Check your fingerprick glucose before starting each session and proceed only if it is above 5.6 mmol/L.
- Keep your glucometer and some kind of sugar nearby at all times.
- It is best to exercise with a partner – do not lift heavy weights without a partner.
- For the safest route, start with low weights and increase slowly under the guidance of an instructor.
Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
Ask yourself the following questions when doing a weight-training programme:
– Are you training for strength, power or endurance?
A basic programme for each goal is:
Power: 4-6 reps, 2-3 sets;
Strength: 6-8 reps, 3-5 sets;
Endurance: 15-25 reps, 3 sets
– Do you have any previous injuries?
Previous injuries may rule out particular movements or ranges of motion in certain joints.
– Have you warmed up?
Do a light cardio warm up, stretching the muscles you are about to use so that you don’t strain.
– How much time do you have?
If you have limited time, rather focus on either upper body or lower body. That way you can target each muscle group in that part of the body and even do more than one exercise per muscle group for greater benefit.
– Have you allowed enough rest?
You need to rest for 40-60 seconds between sets, and 24-48 hours for each muscle group.
– Do you know how to practice good body mechanics?
Your body is the best machine you own. Treat it like one and don’t abuse it! Make sure that you move slowly and with control, breathe, and maintain a neutral spine. Never sacrifice form just to add more weight or repetitions.
Do you want to know how to lose weight, feel better and control your blood glucose levels the easy way? Take a walk!
If your doctor keeps telling you to get active but you’re not sure what kind of exercise to do, why not take a walk? Walking is the one of the easiest ways to get fit because you need very little preparation – we all already know how to do it! Studies have shown that people with Type 2 diabetes who walk daily are able to store sugar and burn fat more effectively. The result: better glucose control and weight loss.
That’s not all. Because walking is relaxing it lowers your blood pressure. This decreases your risk of heart disease. At the same time fitness, lung capacity, stamina and mental alertness all improve.
Still not convinced? It can even make you happier―walking is an excellent way to naturally boost your mood.
Because you don’t need special equipment, walking is ideal for beginners. A pair of well-fitting trainers will do the job. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) recommends 30 minutes of brisk walking daily as part of a healthy lifestyle programme to manage diabetes. However, every journey begins with a single step. Start slowly with 5 or 10 minutes per day and try to add 5 to 10 minutes to your programme weekly.
What is the best technique? Watch your posture. Walk tall. Back straight. Look ahead and keep your chin parallel to the ground. Shoulders should be relaxed. Gently tighten your stomach muscles and tuck your pelvis in to bring it in line with your upper body. Feet must make contact with the ground heal first and then push off with the toes.
Need extra motivation? Use a pedometer, a small device that clips onto your waistband, to track the total steps you take during the day. With your pedometer at hand, find ways to activate your day as much as possible: walk the dog, window shop, use the stairs or walk to visit a neighbour. The end goal is 10,000 steps a day, but anything over 5,000 is a good start!
Want a challenge? Head off-road: go trail walking or hiking. Keep these points in mind when you’re going for an adventure walk:
Be wise. Hike in a group and choose your route according to the least fit person in your group’s abilities. Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.
Be prepared. Hiking requires planning. Pack enough water for the trip to ensure that you are properly hydrated and take something sweet in case your blood sugar goes low. Avoid blisters and don’t hike wearing new shoes. Protect yourself from the sun: wear a hat and sunscreen.
Be aware of your surroundings. Check the weather forecast, be familiar with the route and carry a map.
Walking is the most recommended and popular form of exercise. It is plain to see why. It can be fun, relaxing and a great way to spend time with people. You can do it practically anywhere and it is a good excuse to visit new places. Best of all anyone can do it and it is really good for your health. Start today― take a few steps in the right direction.
Ask the expert: Diabetic tips for walking
Dr. Zaheer Bayat, Endocrinologist
It is important to balance enthusiasm and common sense when beginning an exercise program.
- Have a pre-exercise examination by your GP. This may include a stress test for patients over the age of 35 or have had diabetes for more than 10 years.
- Discuss with your doctor whether or not your insulin dosage needs to be adjusted.
- Choose an insulin injection site away from exercising muscles.
- Eat a snack approximately 15 to 30 minutes before exercise, and again every 30 minutes during exercise. Choose a snack that’s a slowly absorbed carbohydrate.
- Drink enough liquids before, during, and after exercise to prevent dehydration, which can upset blood sugar levels.
- Test your blood sugar before, during, and after exercise to figure out your body’s typical response to exercise.
- Be sure to keep some juice or sweets on hand in case your blood sugar goes low.
Ask the expert: foot care
Anette Thompson, Podiatrist
- Go for a check-up with your podiatrist so that you know the status of your foot health.
- Blisters, hot spots, breaks in the skin or blood flow problems to the feet may go undetected; foot numbness could also be present without your being aware of it. These need to be treated.
- Wear well-fitting shoes that fit comfortably with at least 15mm length ahead of the longest toe and don’t rub at the heel. Try on new shoes, with socks, in the afternoon when your feet are at their biggest volume.
- Invest in good socks. Diabetic socks are made so that they don’t cut off circulation around the ankle.
- Check your feet after each walking session for cuts, blisters, hot red spots or abrasions.