Convincing people who don’t exercise to become more active isn’t easy but experts say the wildly popular virtual reality treasure hunt known as Pokemon Go, in which players walk, run, or sprint to various spots to trap, train, and fight assorted Pokemon (short for pocket monster), could have unintended health benefits for individuals with type 2 diabetes.
How? Because it's impossible to chase down Charmander, Magikarp or Rhyhorn without geting off the couch. And, since type 2 diabetes is largely associated with inactivity and obesity, moving is a very good thing. Fans of Pokemon Go claim that in their quest to “catch ‘em all” they're having fun, visiting new places, socializing with new people and getting a cardio workout all without joining a gym. Call it a workout in disguise. No special equipment (aside from a cell phone that the free app can be downloaded on) is needed and players of all ages can partake in the lively game.
This is also good news for people with prediabetes (having higher than normal blood sugar levels puts them at risk for developing type 2). According to new research, both standing up and walking on a regular basis may help prevent type 2 diabetes. One study1 published in the Diabetes Care Journal finds that breaking up extended periods of sitting with just five-minutes of light movement every half hour can reduce blood sugar and insulin levels.
Exercise and Fun Aren't Mutually Exclusive
Of course, Pokemon Go is not the only form of exercise that can be beneficial. Experts say the key to sticking with regular exercise—whether it’s a dance class or a fitness app—is to find an activity you truly enjoy. With so many options, there’s something for everyone.
“It’s recommended that you get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week,” says Absalon Gutierrez, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the University of Texas McGovern School of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “If that sounds like a lot consider breaking it down into 20 minutes of activity every day. Or, start by just getting out of your seat every half hour and moving around for a few minutes. Little changes like taking the stairs, instead of the elevator, and parking farther away from your office so you get a walk in before work can add up to a lot more activity in ways you may barely notice.”
Amy Hess Fischl, MS, RDN, LDN, BC-ADM, CDE, a dietitian and diabetes educator explains why exercise is especially important for people with diabetes. “It helps you use the extra sugar floating around in your bloodstream so your blood sugar can stay within the normal range,” she says. “It also reduces your risk of complications, can help lower your cholesterol, your blood pressure, and give you a sense of overall well-being.”
Recommended Fitness Apps
While there are loads of free apps to help you get fit, it’s crucial that you don’t plunge right in without knowing your fitness level, Hess Fischl warns. “A person who has barely been moving should not participate in high-intensity exercise. And high-intensity exercise is what a lot of these fitness apps use.”
How will you know if you are considered inactive? Measure your daily steps on a device such as the FitBit, Hess Fischl suggests. Mapmyfitness, Mapmyrun, and Runkeeper can also help you log steps. (Note: If you are logging in fewer than 5,000 steps a day, that’s considered being inactive.)
Looking for a fun fitness app? Dr. Gutierrez likes Zombies Run (high-intensity exercise, so not right beginners.) Fitocracy offers a variety of workouts to try, while MyFitnessPal is a basic app that can help you get on track in terms of how much and when you exercise, he says.
Hess Fischl likes the 7-Minute Workout (Pro) (promotes weight loss and good cardiovascular health); Fitness22 (the "great abs" program offers expertise in how to do sit-ups); Just Six Weeks (teaches you how to do 100 push-ups or sit-ups in just six weeks) and Fit Star Personal Trainer (a training program that continually adjusts to your feedback, goals, and capabilities).
If you already exercise regularly on a moderate level and are looking to change things up, Hess Fischl says to check out Totally Tabata, a high intensive interval training (HIIT) app but be warned. This challenging workout has intensive, short bursts of exercise mixed up with brief breaks.
But you don’t need an app to have fun exercising. Put on some music and dance around your house, says Lourdes Braadt, RN, CDE at St. Anthony Community Hospital in Warwick, New York. Or pick up a pedal exerciser—they cost around $40. “Use this device to get a workout while you watch TV,” Braadt says.
Easy Ways to Get Moving
If you are not already an active person, start small. Just begin with 5 to 10 minutes of any kind of movement three or more times a day, Hess Fischl recommends. Then, work up to doing about 30 minutes of some kind of physical activity every day. If you walk, start slow, increasing the walk until you are walking 30 minutes a day twice.
When it's TV time, get in the habit of walking in place during commercials or consider lifting light weights (2-3 pounds) a during favorite programs.
Be mindful of household chores. Many, like gardening and housecleaning, involve exercise. “Aim for 30 minutes a day and work up to 60 minutes a day if you are aiming for weight loss,” Hess Fischl says.
Bottom line: Whether your passion is chasing down Pokemon, growing organic vegetables in the backyard, or taking your dog on a hike with a friend, the important thing is to get—and keep— moving. It’s a surefire way to feel and look better.