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.”
“My friend was just diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and weirdly the thing that’s bothering him most is what people will think. He doesn’t want to tell anyone because he says they’ll blame him for becoming diabetic – because he didn’t eat healthy or exercise enough. How can I help?” Shan Moyo
First of all, I think your friend is lucky to have someone like who cares enough for him to help him work through the barriers of accepting his diabetes. Because of all the studies that have shown that diet and lifestyle have an influence on Type 2 diabetes, uninformed people forget that there are numerous other reasons for developing diabetes as well. And the Type 1 and Type 2 labels also make people more judgemental.
To some people, their personal health problems and issues are exactly that: personal. Frankly, your friend doesn’t have to share with everybody that he has diabetes, but it is a good idea to let someone close to him know, in case of an emergency. One of the hardest things that newly diagnosed people with diabetes experience and fear is that those who have known you for years start treating you like you’re different. They see your diabetes and not you. But help him look at it this way: no one today would accuse someone with AIDS of giving themselves the condition. So why allow anyone to do it with diabetes?
What can you do? Be an active reader and read your friend like an open book. Listen more and talk less. Help him come to terms with his diabetes and find confidence in managing it. Don’t let him assume that others are judging him: nobody has any power over what other people prefer to think.
Finally, if your friend is really struggling with a lot of mixed emotions, remind him that it’s perfectly normal to feel that way, and that it’s okay to need some help with the burden of managing a demanding condition. And lastly, one of my favourite quotes by Lao Tzu for him: “Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”
Help him to live free and happy.
– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator
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.
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.