There are a plethora of health benefits associated with exercise. Some of these benefits are particularly important if you are living with diabetes. Exercise lowers blood glucose levels and improves insulin sensitivity. Because of this, adults with diabetes should engage in 150 min or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity weekly. Additionally, strength training two days per week is recommended.
While there are immediate benefits to exercise, most are the result of longer-term adherence and consistency. However, it can be exceedingly challenging to maintain an exercise routine. It takes people many attempts before exercise feels like it is a routine. To help you build a routine, I want to give you three unconventional tips to make sure that starting an exercise routine turns into long term consistency.
1. Put It In Your Calendar
One simple tip to make sure you act on your intentions is to plan it! Research consistently shows that planning helps people translate their intentions into behavior. In my book Health Habits for Diabetes, I discuss three different types of planning. They include action planning, coping planning, and habit stacking.
Action planning simple describes when and where you will exercise. Coping planning describes what you will do if barriers come up. For example, if you get busy at work, you might decide to move your planned exercise to a different time. Habit stacking involves adding a new habit on top of an already existing one. For example, if you’re like me you play Wordle every morning with a cup of coffee. My habit stack might be “as soon as I correctly guess the word, I will take my dog out for a 15-minute walk.” These three plans will drastically increase the odds that you will exercise. Lastly, whatever your plan is, put it in your calendar.
2. Do the Minimum… Always
Most of the people I work with want to create an exercise routine. But they are stuck thinking that if they don’t give maximum effort each time, it’s not worth it! This leads them to do a lot of exercise but for a short period of time. One of my favorite things to tell people is this: “first consistency, then intensity.”
I explain to them to never miss a planned exercise session. This can be accomplished by finding your minimum dose of exercise that you will do no matter what. Motivation waxes and wanes daily. So, whenever motivation is low, lower the exercise demand you place on yourself. If you planned on jogging for 30 minutes but don’t feel motivated, don’t skip! Go for a short period of time (maybe 5 minutes). While you may not burn as many calories or obtain greater health benefits in that instant you are still building a routine. Even if you exercise for a brief period, you are still making a routine. But if you miss a session, you lose momentum and risk breaking the routine. Have a minimum dose of exercise in mind so you always stick with your plan.
3. Temptation Bundle
Thus far we have covered planning and how to change the task if you feel less motivated. But how can we feel more motivated? Temptation bundling is a technique where you pair something you want to do with something you should do. Let’s say you really wanted to listen to the latest episode of your favorite podcast. You can only do that if you are in the gym or going for a walk. We can make something that might be a little less desirable (exercise) more desirable by pairing it with something we want.
These are just three techniques that I believe can be quite helpful. In my book Health Habits for Diabetes, I take a more tailored approach where you can learn what techniques to use depending on your social, motivational, and environmental contexts.
Justin Kompf, PhD, has worked in the fitness industry since 2009 as a college strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer. He has an MS in Exercise Science and has a PhD in Exercise and Health Sciences with a focus on Health Behavior Change from the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Justin has taught at the State University of New York at Cortland and also at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He has published work in the Strength and Conditioning Journal, Sports Medicine, the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, and the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. He has contributed his expertise in health behavior change to personal training certifications and nutrition certifications with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.