Thursday, March 3, 2011

Exercise Does a Body Good

Exercise.  It's a word that can strike fear and anxiety into the hearts of even the most well-intentioned people.  It's your body's best friend and a couch potato's worst enemy.  Even so, we are all aware of its many benefits (According to a Mayo Clinic article on the subject):
  • Improved mood
  • Disease prevention
  • Weight management
  • Increased energy
  • Better sleep
  • Improved sex life (*Ahem*)
Then, of course, there's the diabetes-specific benefit of exercise lowering your blood glucose levels and increasing the effectiveness of insulin in doing the same.

And yet, despite its many advantages, for many of us exercise is like doing your taxes: you know it needs to be done, but there's always tomorrow (and the next day, and the next); and after all, you're busy enough today.  You put it off until you absolutely have to do it-which many times, isn't until the event of an acute or chronic illness.  You just can't fit it into your hectic schedule, and even if you could, you wouldn't have the energy to so much as think about exercising.

I know because I've been there.  I've been there so often I should have a Frequent Exercise-Avoider's Rewards Card...In fact, I'm pretty sure I could have cashed in my points for one of those nifty logo-branded shirts by now.  The thing is, while many exercise-avoiders would tell you they don't like exercise at all, most of us actually just don't enjoy starting to exercise.  In reality, once we get going it's not so bad; it's getting started that's the problem.  Whether it's truly a scheduling issue (because who really has much if any spare time to do anything during the average day?) or a general lack of energy (when I get off work, I'm beat...like collapse-on-the-couch-and-don't-wanna-move-beat), all of us have a plethora of great (and oftentimes valid) excuses not to exercise.  Often, the want-to is there, but the motivation to actually do it is lacking.

What I'm about to tell you is going to sound annoyingly cliche and upbeat and you'll probably hate me for it.  But I started working out a few weeks ago for just 30 minutes at a time after I got home from work, and now I can't imagine not doing it.  It's truly become part of my daily routine, and it feels weird to miss a workout.  As for all of the exercise-inspiring benefits? Well, many of them aren't exactly measurable or even tangible, but the main benefit I've experienced is knowing that I'm doing something good for my health.

And you know what?  I'll be honest: it took a life-changing diagnosis to motivate me to get moving.  If not for my Type 1 diagnosis six months ago, I would most likely still be generally inactive.  I was overweight as a child, but lost around 40 lbs at 12 years old when I did Weight Watchers and played basketball.  I continued to play basketball and tennis and did cross country and track through junior high and part of high school, but as soon as the structured physical-activity time was taken out of my day, exercise became sporadic at best and completely nonexistent at worst.  I continued to eat a healthier diet right up until the day I was diagnosed, and maintained my weight fairly easily.  In fact, I have improved that area of my well-being even more in the past six months and have lost another 13-14 lbs after learning to count carbs through diabetes education. 

However, I was so overwhelmed for the first five months after my diagnosis that exercise still wasn't a big part of my life.  Up until about a month ago, I was too focused on getting my blood glucose numbers closer to my target range and learning as much as I could that (paradoxically), I continued to be fairly inactive.  I have a desk job, so I don't get much physical activity in during the day, so any exercise I do get has to be purposeful.  That's it: purposeful.  You have to purposefully make an effort to get some extra movement in your day, and have to be downright committed to accomplish an actual workout for any given time.  I'm not going to lie; sometimes it's hard not to revert back to the ever-so-familiar couch potato position on those days that I'm super tired after work. 

Sometimes exercise is the last thing on my list of things I want to do.  And on those horrible D-days when you're on the rollercoaster of highs and lows, it's hard not to give in to the feeling that everything is screwed up anyway, so why bother?  Quite honestly, the only thing that gets me on my Gazelle those days is sucking it up and faking it.  When the motivation just plain isn't there, that's what you do: fake it and do it anyway.

The good news: Once you start, there's a chain reaction of awesomeness that tends to follow.  When you feel like you're doing something good for you and your health, you feel better about yourself.  You start to make better choices in your diet and subsequently pull yourself out of the rut of out-of-range BG numbers and general D-apathy.  Big change doesn't happen overnight; it's all of those small changes that add up over time and lead to success in whatever you're trying to achieve.  It's much easier to commit to (and stick to) small changes anyway...And once you do them so often that they become habit, you realize that getting from A to B wasn't as hard as you thought it was going to be.

Moral of the story?  Just try.  I'm serious.  Really, truly try (I'm talking honest effort, no excuses) to get some exercise today-any exercise, whatever you enjoy-and try to do it again tomorrow.  It's really that simple.  Take it one day at a time, do a little more each day, and before you know it, you'll be a habitual exerciser.  I think the most important thing is doing something you really enjoy rather than something you consider EXERCISE in the traditional sense of the word and hating it.  If you hate it, you're not going to stick with it, bottom line.  For example, I loathe treadmills.  I hate the feeling of running and getting nowhere.  But give me an elliptical (or, if you have my budget, a Gazelle) and I'm happy as a jaybird.  A walk or bike ride around the neighborhood on a nice day? I'm you're girl.  I just hate treadmills, and knowing this, I avoid them if there's any possible alternative.  After all, common sense will tell you that you'll put more effort into doing something you like, so why waste your time and energy on anything you truly hate doing?

Try and I can almost guarantee that something good will come of it.  It may be that you have more energy, or that you feel better about yourself, or maybe even that you see a difference in your BG numbers.  Any which way you look at it, exercise does everybody--and your body--good.

This post is my March entry in the DSMA Blog Carnival.  If you’d like to participate too, you can get all of the information at http://diabetessocmed.com/2011/march-dsma-blog-carnival

6 comments:

Cherise said...

Hi Ashley!

Nice meeting you! I am having a hard time staying motivated. I need to start taking 30 minutes a day and just do it with yout thinking about it!

Cherise
DSMA

Bec said...

Hi Ashley, congrats on finding an activity you enjoy, so important in keeping you motivated :)

Karen said...

You are an awesome cheerleader for the D-OC! Next time I feel like slacking on my exercise, I just might have to call you up for a pep talk. :)

Ashley said...

Thanks, everyone! I just realized that I had comments on my blog pages...for some reason, I never got an email! Anyway, I really appreciate the feedback =)

It's so true-even if you don't feel motivated and don't want to exercise, if you just do it, chances are you'll get into it...and you might even enjoy it! Start small, find something you love doing, and on the days you don't have the time or energy, do it anyway! =)

Toucan Scraps said...

we love bike rides

great blog carnival post

Ashley said...

Thank you, dear!

I rode a bike all over campus (and it was a huge one) while I was in college at Texas Tech University, and I've loved riding since then-when the weather is nice!

That's another point I forgot to bring up in my post-if the form of exercise you love requires being outdoors, you may have to find a subsitute for the days (or months) when the weather is less than ideal!

Happy exercising =)

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