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The Exercise Habit

The Exercise HabitMaking exercise a habit isn't easy. Little tricks—like setting out my workout clothes the night before so I basically trip over them when I get out of bed help—help keep me motivated.

Twice a week, I drag myself to a class called Body Toning, in part because I enjoy it, and in part because I know it's good for me. The "I know it's good for me" portion of that sentence outweighs the first by country miles.

There are mornings when I feel that I am literally dragging my body, joint by joint, knee by elbow, to the class. Afterwards, I join the rest of the over 50's to bitch about how we need to stop the madness.

But for some reason, next session there I am, up front behind our insanely fit instructor, struggling through 15 sets of burpees or whatever new torture she has devised. 

It wasn't always this way. As a teenager, I was hardly the athletic type. I did the obligatory gym class and played a 13-minute season on the girls' junior high basketball team (they were desperate for tall girls and I had a growth spurt that year).

It didn't occur to me until I was diagnosed with the equivalent of 'pre-diabetes' in my senior year of college—although no one called it that then—that maybe movement would help keep my budding condition at bay. 

So exercise became part of my life. First as a runner, eeking out longer and longer paths on a run in Alexandria, Virginia; then as a weight lifter, hoisting at Nautilus machines in Iowa, where I was in graduate school. I never achieved the vaunted "runner's high," but I did find that I had more energy. And yes, it did regulate my sugars

Pregnant, I upped the ante and pumped out hours on an exercise bike and endless laps in a swimming pool so I wouldn't have to take insulin. It wasn't easy, but once again, it was necessary. 

How to Make Exercise a Habit

How does a habit become a habit? Apparently, it has to work into a groove in your brain. People say it's about willpower, but for me, doing it over and over again has worn that groove, and now, it's almost as though I don't have a choice. I mean I do, but something in my brain won't let me turn back over and go to sleep. 

How do you get into the groove? For some people it involves rewards. One study from a University of Pennsylvania researcher showed that people who only read romance novels or watched a favorite television show while they ran on a running machine (they weren't allowed to take their books or shows home) came back to the machine more frequently than those who had no such rewards.

I find tricks help as well—I always set out my exercise outfit the night before on the floor so I basically trip over it when I awake. Like a rude reminder that I need to get ready to do those damned burpees once again.

People tell me that they admire my stick-to-itiveness when it comes to exercise. But it's really nothing but a habit, one that took 30 years to develop. Even now, as I don my exercise tights, I think, "I don't have to do this. I could stay home." But then my brain kicks into that groove and there I am, counting out jumping jacks, cursing my instructor, and lowering my sugars. And occasionally, very occasionally thinking, "This is kind of fun."

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