Since I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1999, I’ve learned over the years that physical activity is key to helping me manage my blood sugar. It also helps me to sleep well and keep my stress levels under control. But I don’t belong to a gym. Here are five ways to get exercise without a pricey gym membership.
1. Move during work breaks
My job requires me to spend a lot of time in front of a computer. I’ve heard that “sitting is the new smoking,” so I’ve adopted a new way to make sure I move during the work day. I use a method known as the Pomodoro Technique: I set a timer for 25 minutes, silence my phone, and totally focus on one thing I need to get done. When the timer goes off, I take a 5-minute break. This usually involves going downstairs and waiting for the kettle to boil so I can have another cup of tea. While I wait, I either walk at a fast clip around our kitchen island or stretch my hamstrings, quads, and calves. If much of your day is spent on computer work, take breaks every half hour or so and move your body. You could do a few yoga poses or run up and down the stairs.
2. Take short walks after meals
You probably think that you simply don’t have time to exercise for 30 minutes every day, the way most doctors recommend. After all, you have a long commute, a demanding job, and so many family commitments. You don’t have a half hour chunk of free time on your calendar anywhere. But did you know that three 10-minute spurts of exercise have just as many health benefits as one 30-minute session? How hard would it be to take a brisk walk for 10 minutes after each meal? And, if you do it with a family member or coworker, you’re sneaking in some social interaction too.
3. Get out in the garden
Gardening is a lot of physical activity, whether you’re digging, pulling weeds, turning the compost, lifting big bags of mulch, or pushing a lawn mower. Being outside in the sunshine also gives you a boost of vitamin D, which is important for healthy bones and teeth. Take the added step of growing your own vegetables and herbs in your garden — it’s fun, rewarding, and so beneficial for your diet. Consider trying to get started if you’re a novice.
4. Try exercise videos
About a year ago, I discovered online exercise videos. I started with low-impact aerobics, then moved on to more strenuous cardio routines and resistance training. After a while, I even invested in a few dumbbells and got my husband hooked. My six-year-old niece started doing the videos with us, too. Now, every time she comes over, she says, “Can we do shuffle, shuffle, curtsy?” Not only are we getting our workouts in, but hopefully we’re encouraging our niece to stay physically active, too.
5. Go for a hike
If walking around your neighborhood bores you, look for a local park. Many have walking trails where you can get in some exercise while traipsing through the woods observing wildlife and plants. In my area of Richmond, Virginia, we can even look for brightly painted rocks. There’s a movement here called RVA Rocks where small rocks are decorated, then hidden in places people hang out (especially parks). Whoever finds a rock posts a photo to Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #RVArocks, then they hide the rock again. You can follow the feeds to see who found your rocks. Hiking becomes even more of an adventure! (My niece loves this too. We’ve even painted and hidden a few rocks ourselves.)
Staying active to help manage your diabetes doesn’t have to be drudgery. Use your imagination and find fun ways to keep moving. No gym required.
- Earth Box. (n.d.).
- The Pomodoro Technique. (n.d.).
- Reynolds G. (2013). Ask well: 3 short workouts or 1 long one?
Shelby Kinnaird publishes diabetic-friendly recipes and tips for people who want to eat healthy at , a website often stamped with a “top diabetes blog” label. Her motto is “a diabetes diagnosis is not a dietary death sentence.” Shelby is a passionate diabetes advocate who likes to make her voice heard in Washington, DC and she leads two support groups in Richmond, Virginia. She has successfully managed her type 2 diabetes for more than 18 years.