Relearning the Exercise Diabetes Connection

Image Courtesy of Unsplash

Sometimes I have to relearn things over and over again before it sinks in. This week, it was the fact that exercise really does help lower your glucose levels. I took a break from doing gym over the holidays and also, although I know it’s a dumb thing to do, took a break from diabetes for a couple of weeks. I didn’t monitor my glucose and ate lots of nice food. I only gained a kilo, so I didn’t go too overboard. But of course, when I started monitoring my levels again, it’s no surprise they were high, and they stayed up until I started back in the gym yesterday and today.

My before dinner and morning fasting glucose levels have been consistently around 8.0 (145) for the past two weeks – and these are my before meal readings! Yesterday I spent some time doing weight training and riding my exercise bike. Today I just rode the bike. I try to do strength work on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and just cardio work on the days in between.

My first indication that I was getting back on track was my before dinner blood sugar reading was 5.3 (95) Tonight’s was 5.2. My fasting reading this morning was a very reasonable 6.6 (120). That’s the cool thing about exercise and diabetes. Its effects last far longer than the time spent sweating. I spent only about 20 minutes on the bike today but it was definitely worth it.

Striding Forward

Getting my steps

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for about three months now.  Last week, I celebrated six months of meeting my step goal every day.  Three months ago I was going to have a review of any changes that have taken place during that time, but now it’ll have to be at the six month mark. I’m OK with that.

 

So, besides finally really creating a habit of walking every day, what have I accomplished?  

 

The bad news is I haven’t lost much in the way of weight.  In November last year I was 97.6 kg and by mid February I was down to 90kg.  I started my current walking streak on the 28th of February, so I can’t really credit my streak with losing 7kg. And since then, my weight has fluctuated between 88 and 90 – mostly around the 90 mark.  I’m not feeling bad about that because I’d rather have a plateau than be gaining weight. It means I’m holding steady. Even though my weight hasn’t changed much, I’ve lost 4cm in my waist.  

 

Where the big changes have taken place has been my health.  I haven’t had a cold or flu in the last six months. The only ‘illness’ I’ve had is when I was hit in the face and body by the boot lid coming down on me on a super windy day and a weird viral infection in my eye.

 

Accu-Chek Glucose MeterMy glucose results have been the real winner.  In January, my usual readings after meals were in the high 8’s and 9’s with several over 10 mmol.  My last HBA1c test showed my overall glucose for the last 3 months down to 5.6, which is so much better for me.  My averages these days are in the 5’s, and I’ve had to keep an active eye on things to make sure my glucose doesn’t go too low now. In fact, we’ve reduced my medications twice now to balance it back to slightly higher (but normal) levels. Less medication. Wow!

 

Gym EquipmentAnother unforeseen bonus has been that I actually like gym days now.  I do several things in our home gym right after another and then ‘rest’ while walking 3 circuits around the house before doing the next set in the gym. Often by the end of my gym time, I’ve reached my 4200 step goal for the day.  

 

Awhile ago, Fitbit added a new thing where the app encourages you to get at least 250 steps every hour.  That’s not a lot, and not hard to do – 3 circuits around my house gives me about 300 steps. So when I’ve been at my desk and the clock tells me it’s at the top (or bottom) of the hour I go do my 3 trips around the house and come back a bit more refreshed. It also stops me from getting to stiff from sitting too long.  I’ve purposely kept my step goal low with the thought that it’s better to have an achievable goal than to set the bar so high I can’t hope to reach it.  I haven’t changed the goal because I’ve found that most days I tend to average more than this and that’s been thrilling to see.  The goal is 4200 but according to Fitbit my weekly averages are around 5,500 a day, and this seems to be on the increase. My other half has also helped a lot with a bit of friendly competition. He tries to catch up with my weekly step count or I try to catch up with his. Either way, we both win and are better for it in the long run.

My Fitbit with Medic Alert

I think my mental health has improved too.  In the past, my worst, most depressed days were when I’d just go to bed and not bother with anything for the whole day. I still have moments of being down but not as much as I had been over the last few years.

 

Not everything has changed. The osteoarthritis is still here, I still stiffen right up if I sit, stand or lay down for any length of time, I still have osteoporosis and my balance is still wobbly.  But it’s nice to have a few more things going right than wrong lately.

 

Last, I really must thank all the wonderful people who have encouraged me and ‘liked’ my Facebook and Twitter status post.  The Facebook posts are automatic when I reach my step goal for the day and the Twitter one is just the daily stats for the total amount each day.  Your encouragement and cheering me has made me smile, kept me going on the rough days and I can’t thank you enough for being there for me!

Silly House Walking

My Walking History….

I’ve been playing with a pedometer and trying to get more steps into my day for several years now.  Some years have definitely been better than others – one of those things I’ve just had to accept during the times when my health has slowed me down.

My first pedometer was a cheap one that came in a box of cornflakes that I bought specifically for the step counter.  I still have a notebook somewhere around here where I wrote down my day’s steps every night before pressing the reset. Sometimes it would reset itself during the day (Oh, woe is me!).  The cheapy ended it’s life when it fell into a toilet when I was shopping at the mall. Considering it was just a cheap thing that maybe would have cost $3 at the time, I was devastated. It started a hunt for something better that wouldn’t get lost. I tried several that I could keep in my pocket and eventually my new smart phone, a Nokia N95, took it’s place.

I had the phone for a few years and had become quite used to take it everywhere with me, and relying on it’s records so I didn’t have to jot down my daily step count. I like it. Fast forward a few years and my new phone was of the Apple kind. There were apps that were step counters but in order to work, they had to be running in the foreground. That was a bit useless, so I went looking for real pedometers again.

Had a good day
I eventually ended up with a FitBit One, which I wore either in my pocket or for other times when I had no pockets, on a lanyard. The online Fitbit site kept track of my step history. Today I wear a Fitbit Charge so I don’t have to worry about pocket or lanyard issues and it does a better job at sleep tracking than the One ever did.

Trying something different…

So I have a little bit of experience. The thing I don’t have is a high daily step count. For a few years, I maintained about 5-6,000 steps a day by taking a long walk around the neighbourhood. The thing that always bothered me about this was the feeling that I could/should be doing something more constructive, or that I was missing out on doing other things at home. In the last couple of years, I took shorter walks and my daily step count goal was down to between 3 and 4000 steps a day.  I’ve had a long standing issue with low hemoglobin and anemia which has made doing lots of things very tiring. It’s a wee better at the moment.
Today, my average step count is now closer to 6k a day, but I’m not leaving home to do it. I’ve made it a mission to prove to myself that I don’t have to leave home or use a treadmill to get a decent amount of steps in each day. To my surprise, it’s working, and rather well. So the rest of this post is about the things I’ve learned in making this work. For some folks, this might be a given, but it certainly was illusive for me, and I’m probably not alone.

Wear walking shoes

When I get up and get dressed (sometimes these two things can be hours apart), I put my walking shoes on. This is a cheap pair of shoes I bought several pair of at Kmart when they were on sale. I have full gel pads (from eBay) inside them. It might not work for everyone, but when I have shoes on, it automatically puts me into a psychological  ‘Go’ mode. It also means if I have to go outside for something, I’m ready. This was one of the first changes I made when deciding to try walking around the house to get my step count in, and it definitely works for me.  I accept this may not be helpful for some folks, and if not, don’t worry about it, go barefoot! Or naked!  (Just kidding)

Pick a path

Walk around your house, look for places that offer a long stretch where there aren’t many turns.  I have two of these. The first is the hallway that goes from our front bedroom to the laundry room. I can walk from the window on the far side of the bedroom all the way to where the washing machine is in the laundry. So I play ‘tag’ with these two spots. I also have a relatively straight shot from our middle bedroom, through the kitchen and into the office where my desk is. I can walk either choice and end up with around about 50 steps.  If I mix the two together, I end up with about 100 steps per ‘circuit’. Do that ten times (pretty easy) and you’ve got 1,000 steps in.
 
Repeat that a few times over the course of the day, and you’ve reached your step goal for the day.
 

Pace yourself

I usually set short term goals when I start a new walk, such as “I’m going to walk around the house until I reach the next 500 (or 1000) steps”.  This gives me a something I know I can do in the next few minutes without it taking up all of my time and energy.  Just ambling around the house in an organised way takes me about 15 minutes per 1000 steps.  This may be less, but I’ve been the charts on Fitbit to determine how far I’ve walked in that time and it tends to have a spike when I go on these little jaunts that lets me see what I’ve done.
 

Make it a routine, build it into your day

This is where having my shoes on until I’ve reached my step goal comes into play…  It helps remind me that the shoes are on for a reason.  I try to do stuff at my computer in half hour stints and then follow that with another walk session.  This has an advantage in making sure I don’t spend too long in one position at the computer, and the 15 minute walk lets me do a few household things or clear my mind before returning refreshed to the computer again.
One night it was a bit late in the evening and I knew I needed to get my steps in for the day so I chose to do 1000 steps at a time while my other half was watching the TV. I made sure my chosen ‘circuit’ included being near enough to the TV so I could still hear and see it as I made my way around the house. I didn’t miss anything. I took a few 10 minute breaks here and there to watch something but went back to it, and it really didn’t take long before I could kick off the shoes and declare myself done for the day.

After awhile, you might find yourself doing laps around the house when you weren’t intending to – it just happens. I think for me, it’s just an extension of the ‘what did I come in this room for?” and then just carrying on walking!

Whoo Hoo! 6,200 StepsThe thing I like with the silly house walking is I don’t feel resentful – I’m not missing anything. If something needs doing I can do it, I don’t do it long enough to get bored.  I also do other things while taking my circuits around the house.  Sometimes it might take a few laps to finish though. For example, emptying the dishwasher a few dishes at a time before continuing on my walk (and the same for filling it up), or folding something in the laundry room each time I pass by.  Tonight I filled up my Sodastream bottles and fizzed them up – a process that took a few goes during my walk, but got it done and out of the way.


A few more hints and suggestions…

 

Don’t keep looking at your Fitbit (or other pedometer) for your step count. It’s like watching the clock. If you resist the urge, the numbers just magically go up and up. If you’re looking every few minutes it can be annoyingly slow in changing.  I look about every two or three ‘laps’ if I can resist the urge.  One thing I’d love for the Fitbit to have is an incremental goal. Like give my wrist a little buzz each time I reach another 1000 steps.

 

Set a reasonable daily step goal for yourself.  Unless you’re already super fit and active, keeping your goal at 10,000 steps and not reaching it can be disheartening.  Start with something you know you can do, then after you’ve reached that goal several days in a row, increase the goal by another 1000.  And repeat.  I’m up to 6000 steps a day, and as long as I’m able to hit this daily, I’ll update to 7000 next week.

If you’re a bit of a data freak like am, you can also track your steps on Runtastic and / or MyFitnessPal.  I use the spikes that show on the Fitbit dashboard for when I’ve been walking for 15 minutes. If you hover over the spike in the graph for distance, it will show you how far you’ve gone. I average about half a kilometer for each 15 minutes when I’m doing the silly house walk. I take note of the beginning time and add that along with the distance into a new entry manual entry on Runtastic. Because my Runtastic account and MyFitnessPal are connected, so the entry automatically updates MFP.  The only downside is that because Fitbit is also linked to these two, it seems to pick up the MyFitnessPal active time and add it to it’s own. But it doesn’t seem to double the calories burned so that’s good.

 
 
I’ll leave you with a comment from a friend after I’d told her about my silly little plan that seems to be working…   “Thinking you have to leave home or use treadmill to reach your step goal is making excuses instead of just doing it!”  Amen, sister.

 

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