The single most important thing to know about exercising

Unless you’ve lived on a remote South Pacific atoll for the last two decades, you’re most likely aware of the pervasive message to exercise.

And if you have Type 2 diabetes, it’s probably been even harder to avoid any recommendation to do so.

If you have the habit already, no need to read further, although don’t let me stop you!

But if you haven’t embraced it yet, here’s a brief recap of the value of exercise…

Our lives are pretty sedentary these days. Staring at one screen or another, smart phones, iPads, e-readers or computers takes up an average of 8.5 hours out of the day. Tack on TV and it adds up to more time than the average person spends asleep!

Put in that context, does it make you re-think your own choices?


Given that most of that “screen staring” is done while seated, our bodies are being neglected. Like all animals, moving optimizes all parts of our bodies, keeping it in good working condition. Moving around helps to maintain optimal body functioning. That includes the internal organs we don’t see, and know only by name or function!


OK, enough of the preachy “here’s what and why you should do this” bit. Personally, I can’t recall meeting anyone over the last couple of decades who doesn’t have an intellectual knowledge that it’s supposed to be good for us.

The biggest difficulty is the beginning of a “new habit”, especially one that may not excite you. It’s always going to be more difficult to acquire a new habit that has little appeal, or you feel neutral about.

Here’s where I’ll offer some suggestions to get you started in acquiring a exercise program tailored to your abilities.

How to begin an exercise program.

1. Start where you are!

Sounds reasonable huh? Don’t aim too high — being overly ambitious at the beginning will end up having the opposite effect. Rather than giving you a leg-up, or proving what a fit athlete you are, it’ll most likely backfire. Granted, there are those who can withstand the “jump in the deep end” approach. If you’ve had prior success with that method, go ahead!

If not, don’t!

The outcome could result in injury, strained muscles or worse. Often the latter won’t appear until a day or two later, giving a false sense of security. And afterwards, the experience you’ll recall will be the discomfort or pain you felt from overdoing it!

Unless you’re a masochist, you’re unlikely to want to repeat anything that hurt. If that happens, the tendency is to lose traction, be put off the idea of continuing, and the experience is filed away under “Tried, didn’t like exercising, it hurt”.

If you don’t have a recent history of being active, start with what you can manage. The point is to ease in slowly. Walk around your neighborhood, but not an 8-mile hike! Try just 20 minutes at a normal walking speed.


2. Listen to your body.

If that felt like a stretch for you, wait until the following day, then scan your body to see how it held up. Remember, you’re the only one living in your body, so avoid comparing yourself to someone else.

Only if the answer is OK, no aches or pain, wait until the day after that, then repeat. Muscles need at least 24 hours to recuperate from the activity (maybe you do too).


3. Build up slowly, be patient.

If this is your beginning level, ensure you don’t rush to overdo it. Perhaps walking twice the first week, gradually building up to alternate days after the first month, by adding another day every week or two.

The single most frequent obstacle I hear from clients to building and sustaining an exercise regime is going too fast initially and petering out as a result!

When you can’t fit in additional work-outs, then increase the amount of exercise incrementally, until you can handle 45 or 50 minutes.

Remember, you’re slowly, safely building muscle. Increase both frequency and duration, or difficulty (flat versus hilly terrain) slowly to allow your mind and body to acclimate.

4. Experiment with different activities.

The idea here is to translate this process to any activity, substituting what works for you, such as dancing or swimming, for walking. Mixing it up also will keep your interest longer.


Here’s the single biggest piece to ensure success…

Before you exercise, check in with how you feel emotionally (anxious/stressed?), your mental state (agitated/negative?), and your physical energy level (restless/inertia?) before you exercise.

Then run the same check after you finish.

Don’t allow any judgments here, just observe, notice, pay attention, become aware of it.

Without doing anything, allow what you notice cognitively (distracted/alert?), physically (achy/toned?) and emotionally (peaceful/angry?) to register.

Chances are that you’ll feel better than before.

And that’s what’s important to remember.

So, if you want to feel that again, you know how to bring it on — by repeating your work-out!



Focus on how you feel after exercising, not the activity.

Focus on the effect, how you feel as a result of working out, not the actual activity itself! Let’s face it, you’re more likely to lust after a pleasant state than an activity that’s not necessarily enticing!


Filed under: Exercise


  1. My thoughts on mindfully starting and staying with an exercise program are: you get up in the morning and go to the gym – PERIOD! No thinking. Once you even begin to “think” about it you won’t go. Exercise for diabetics is another form of medication only this medication actually makes you feel great!

    • admin says:

      So true Mary. I’ve also made it a routine, so there’s no decision to be made, which heightens the possibility of deciding not to go.

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