How to Stay Active This Winter

Learn about caring for your diabetes in the cold weather
Getting regular exercise throughout the winter can help keep your mood up and your diabetes under control
Getting regular exercise throughout the winter can help keep your mood up and your diabetes under control

It’s hard to stay motivated to exercise when the weather is lousy or there is a foot of snow on the ground.

“But regular exercise in winter is really the best therapy for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, especially because cold weather and short days can trigger depression,” says Jackie Shahar, M.Ed., R.C.E.P., C.D.E., Manager of Exercise Physiology at Joslin Diabetes Center. “Exercise lowers your blood sugar, helps you sleep and feel better, and increases your energy,” she says. Shahar offers these tips to keep you motivated to stay active year-round!

Make it simple. If you are new to exercise, or haven’t been active for awhile, the first step is going to be hard, so you want to keep it simple. Start small.

“A lot of people think they have to go to the gym for an hour, but 15 minutes a day is all it really takes to start feeling better,” says Shahar. From there, you can work to increase your activity gradually as much as possible and build it into your daily routine.

Don’t focus solely on the outcome.  The key is to make whatever you do fun and feel good now, says Shahar.  Feeling good is an immediate payoff that will help push you past your discomfort zone. For instance, if you look forward to playing a Just Dance video game because it feels great, and not just because you’re going to lose five pounds in a month, you’ll probably stick with it over the long run.

“If you think of exercise as a chore, you’ll likely quit altogether a month into it,” she says.

Try a new activity. Start by finding an indoor exercise that’s similar to the one you have been doing outside. If you’re an avid walker, find an indoor mall where you can walk laps for 30 minutes. If you’re a cyclist, you may enjoy spinning classes. You want to find something that matches your personality, says Shahar. Or, ask a friend to join you in exploring a winter sport like cross-country skiing. Challenging yourself will help you stay engaged.

Join a gym. For people with diabetes, it’s very important to schedule exercise to make sure that your blood glucose is in a safe range, says Shahar. Many gyms offer short-term memberships that will get you through the cold winter months. This way, you can plan to go first thing in the morning, during your lunch break or right after work. In addition, you’ll have a variety of options to choose from such as an indoor track, a weight room or fitness classes.  Check with your employer or health insurance company to see if they offer reimbursement.

Buy a home workout machine. “Some people like using an elliptical trainer or treadmill, because they can use it when the weather is bad,” says Shahar. “The other benefit is that it’s not limited to winter use. You can jump on it when it’s crazy hot outside or raining.”

Try online options. Today, everything is online. You can sign up for an online yoga, dance or martial arts class. “YouTube is a great place to go to cut costs and find all sorts of activities,” says Shahar. Plus, you can do the exercises without leaving your house.

“For example, you can start with a simple walking video that can be done in your living room, which will allow you to experience upbeat music and the guidance of an instructor.”

Talk to your doctor. Many hospitals and health networks offer group fitness classes tailored to meet specific needs.

The best way to stay committed to your exercise routine is to try different exercises and pick the ones that feel the best. “Any activity of intermediate intensity is going to help release the endorphins that will make you feel great,” says Shahar. “It’s worth the effort.”

Do you need help with your exercise routine? Learn more about Joslin’s Exercise Physiologists, or watch an outside exercise video that you can do indoors. To see more exercise videos, visit Joslin’s website.

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