How to Get Moving With Minimum Effort


Why is daily activity important?

We’ve all heard it a million times: “exercise is important and should be a part of your daily routine.” But have you ever wondered how it could help you manage your diabetes?

Exercise is essentially the only natural way that you can lower your blood sugar without taking any additional diabetes medication, like insulin or oral medications like metformin. And not only that, the right combination of exercise can significantly improve insulin sensitivity, not just during your workout but in the long run as well.

Improving your insulin sensitivity means that your body gets better at using the insulin your body produces on its own or the insulin you inject. For some people with diabetes, this means that although remission of diabetes isn’t always possible, medication needs can be significantly reduced.

And here comes the best part: even smaller bursts of activity counts. Exercise doesn’t have to take place in a gym, consume hours of your week, or be dreadfully boring to be worthwhile.

Here, I’ll give you an overview of what to do, for how long and how to enjoy being active.

How much is enough?—How small steps can make a difference.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans encourages us to get 150 to 300 minutes of exercise every week. That sounds daunting! But stick with me and let’s break it down a bit.

150 hours is actually only two hours and a half, which comes down to 21 minutes daily. 21 minutes, that sounds much more doable.

Previous thinking has been that those 21 minutes could be broken down into 10-minute intervals, but the newest recommendations break it down even further, and states even doing five minutes at a time is beneficial. Basically, everything counts!

That means that simply making your heart or your muscles work a little harder for a few minutes several times a day is beneficial. Small steps literally make a difference. And often it only takes a small few tweaks to your everyday life to get you there, no matter how busy your schedule is or how long it has been since you exercised.

Small tweaks to get you moving

Optimally, we’d do a combination of aerobic activity (elevated heart rate) and resistance training (muscle work). For people with diabetes, this is especially important. Aerobic exercise can help lower your blood sugar at that moment, and resistance training can improve your overall sensitivity to insulin.

If you prefer to go to a gym and exercise, you can definitely do that, but there are so many other ways to get your activity in as well.

Get in your aerobic minutes by:

Walk: Walk whenever you can. Park further away from your destination, walk over to your colleague to discuss that presentation rather than calling them, pop in headphones and go for a walk during conference calls or that chat with your mom or your kids (too cold outside, walk around the house).

Dance: Put on your favorite tune and dance around the house, and why not include your kids, spouse, roommate, or pets?

Go out and play: Have kids? Get off the bench and go play with them. No kids, no problem, grab a ball and go shoot some hoops or a jump rope and do some “double-unders”.

Cleaning: Not necessarily my favorite activity…but we have to get it done, right? Vacuuming, dusting and even laundry counts.

Childs play: Remember what you enjoyed doing as a kid? Did you bike around the neighborhood, play in the pool, jump on the trampoline? Go do it again, you enjoyed it back then, and you most likely still will.

Get in your resistance training by:

Stairs: Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Every step, lean a little forward and push through your heel, take two steps at a time or jump up the stairs if it feels safe

Squat or lunges: Watch TV at night? Do air squats or lunges during the commercials    

Shovel snow or do yard work: If it’s snowing outside, put on your warm jacket grab a shovel and start moving some snow. No snow? Then go pull some weeds or dig some holes in the yard. And maybe your neighbor could use some help too clearing the sidewalk or digging some holes? Mowing the lawn can also be a good workout.

When you’re ready for structured exercise—Here’s how to get started

When those little tweaks to your daily routine have become second nature or too easy, it might be time to take it up a notch. You might consider more structured exercise like exercise classes, exercise tapes, going to the gym, or a home routine.

Coming up with your own routine can be challenging at first, but don’t worry, I’m here to help. Below is a low-impact starter workout that you can do at home or in a gym. Home workouts can be just as effective as long as you challenge yourself.

Beginner bodyweight workout (do each exercise three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions):

  1. Sit and Stand: Grab a chair, slowly sit down and stand back up, pushing through your heels with your chest up. Hands can be in front of you for balance or on your hips.
  2. Pile Squat: Stand behind a chair with feet wide apart and toes pointing outward. Hold onto the back of the chair while you lower yourself straight down into a pile squat, leaning your weight back into your heels (rather than the front of your feet) the whole time. This prevents putting added stress in your knees.
  3. Push-up on wall or table: Place hands on wall or countertop shoulder with apart, fingers slightly outward, keep your body straight while lowering yourself down and pushing up.
  4. Isometric push: Elbows up and push the palms of your hands together as hard as you can for 5 to 10 counts.
  5. Plank: Sit on your knees on the floor. Place hands on the floor and align under your shoulders. Scoot your knees back until your body is straight and hold this position for as long as you can. If this is too easy, do the plank on your toes rather than on your knees.

If these exercises feel too easy, you can add resistance by holding a pair of dumbbells or using resistance bands. You can also find more challenging home and gym routines here.

These are all examples and ideas, but if you have an activity in mind that you know will get you moving, go do it. It’s all about finding what works for you and what you enjoy. It can feel overwhelming at first, but I promise, once you feel the benefits of moving more every day, you’ll start to look forward to it!

WRITTEN BY Christel Oreum , POSTED 04/17/19, UPDATED 08/08/23

Christel Oerum is the founder of She is a Los Angeles-based speaker, writer, diabetes coach and diabetes advocate. Christel has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1997 and at an early stage decided that it wasn’t going to slow her down. Her motto is “There is Nothing You Can’t do With Diabetes”.