1. Find your fitness match
For those who have never had a fitness regime before, the key is finding a form of exercise that keeps you stimulated and matches your lifestyle. Working out at a gym – a solitary sport that requires high levels of knowledge and motivation – only suits a small number of people.
Whereas small group fitness classes are more user-friendly and sustainable because they create strong bonds between participants and instructors. And they were not necessarily interrupted by COVID-19 lockdowns thanks to live-stream technology like Zoom that brought fitness classes into peoples' homes.
“Most peoples' apartments in Hong Kong are very small, so we came up with new workouts based on bodyweight exercises that did not require a lot of space,” says Shelley Clark, owner of an F45 gym franchise at Quarry Bay. “Our trainers got creative and showed members how to use things they already have at home like water bottles and backpacks full of books.”
Team sports like basketball or badminton are another way to fit in exercise and socialise at the same time. Or, if you prefer to exercise on your own, try swimming at your local pool or jogging in a park.
2. Work your workout into your schedule
Once you choose a workout that matches your personality, you should aim for “regular cardiovascular exercise for 30 minutes or more four to five times per week,” according to Dr Raymond Tso, medical director at Sun Life.
Not only will it help your keep your blood sugar levels in check, it will also make you feel healthier and happier. And give you longer-lasting energy for the rest of the day. Like many other activities, the key to maintaining an exercise regime is routine. If you're an early riser, start your day with a morning jog or swim. If you're single or don't have children and have your evenings to yourself, skip the after-work drinks or dinners with work colleagues on weeknights and attend group fitness classes instead. You won't have to sacrifice the human interaction you crave for and the workout will make it easier for you to fall asleep – and stay asleep. Cycling to work is another option with the added benefits of saving money on transport and you won't have to set aside much extra time from your busy schedule.
3. Start slow & build up
Starting slowly and adding more time and higher intensity to your workouts as your fitness level improves is very important for people with diabetes, pre-diabetes or even a family history of diabetes.
This is because exercise can cause hypoglycemia – a medical condition where blood sugar plummets and causes feelings of weakness, fatigue, shakiness or confusion. To help prevent this from happening to you, the best time for diabetics to exercise is one to three hours after a meal, when your blood sugar is normally higher. If you use insulin, it’s essential to test your blood sugar before, during and after exercise, and to carry glucose tablets or fruit juice with you to help treat potential hypoglycemic reactions. Telling your instructor or workout partners about your medical condition and the signs to watch out is also a smart move.
4. Keep a workout journal
Professional sports people keep logs to keep their fitness goals on track, and so should you. It will only take you two minutes and the benefits are significant: it will help you be honest with yourself and push yourself to make progress irrespective of your fitness level.
If life or injury gets in the way of your exercise plans, you can use a fitness journal to retrace your footsteps and get back on track. Professional sportspeople also use journals to assist with injury prevention.
In the same vein, people with diabetes who are already keeping track of their blood sugar levels can use a journal to identify fluctuations in their blood sugar levels during exercise – and understand how physical activity affects your diabetes control. And with the advent of the smartphone, the task is even easier. Many of the leading apps to help you manage diabetes have functions to track exercise, while 'Fitness for Diabetics' is an app designed to co-monitor blood sugar levels and your daily exercise routine.
5. Don't keep your doctor in the dark
While the benefits of exercising for people with diabetes are well proven, it is important to talk to your doctor before 'before' starting a new exercise regime. This is especially important if you haven't exercised in a while to help avoid hypoglycemia, which can be fatal in extreme cases. Your doctor will inevitably counsel you to start slow and build up your strength as we have and will praise you for keeping a fitness journal that they can use to help you with injury prevention and reflect on exercise factors that may be causing your blood sugar levels to drop. And working with your doctor ahead of time can help you plan the exercise program that's best for you.