Putting the Fun Back into Fitness

Walking is a surprisingly effective form of exercise for people with diabetes or those trying to prevent it.
It doesn’t really matter who you are or what type of diabetes you have, if you want to be around and in good shape to enjoy your life, your family and your friends, you have to get some exercise. There are really only two requirements when it comes to exercise. One is that you do it. The other is that you continue to do it say authors Jennie Brand-Miller, Kaye Foster-Powell, Alan Barclay and Stephen Colagiuri in the new ebook edition of The Low GI Diet: Managing Type 2 Diabetes (Hachette Australia; to be published 26 August 2014).

People walking

Why push yourself to exercise? Exercising muscles need fuel and the fuel they need most is glucose. So as soon as you start moving your muscles they’ll start burning up glucose. First they’ll use their own stores of glucose (that’s glycogen); then they’ll call on the liver for some of its stores, all the time drawing the glucose out of the blood and lowering your blood glucose levels.

A study in Diabetes Care provides convincing proof that regular walking can provide significant health benefits for very little cost. A group of nearly 200 people with type 2 diabetes were given physical activity counselling every three months for two years. Some took it more seriously than others. The researchers found that those walking 2–5km (2400–6400 steps) more than usual each day achieved the most benefits for their diabetes.

“When I was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, at the age of 75, I was horrified when my doctor suggested I go for a walk each day. ‘Walk? The furthest I ever walk is to the driveway!’ I said. But I wanted to manage my diabetes and to do that I really had to lose some weight, so I began walking every morning, with my husband. After six weeks I could walk 40–50 minutes a day quite easily. And I had lost 5kg. I feel so much better for it and I can do things I haven’t done in years. – Betty

Is it fun or is it exercise? According to the findings of two small studies from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab published in Marketing Letters, if you think of being physically active as a “fun run” or as a well-deserved break, you’ll eat less afterwards. Think of it as exercise or as a workout and you'll later eat more to reward yourself.

Adults were led on a 2 km walk around a small lake and were either told it was going to be an exercise walk or a scenic walk. In the first study, 56 adults completed their walk and were then given lunch. Those who believed they had been on an exercise walk served and ate 35% more chocolate pudding for dessert than those who believed they had been on a scenic walk. In the second study, 46 adults were given mid-afternoon snacks after their walk. Those thinking they taken an exercise walk ate 206 more calories of M&Ms, which was over twice as much – 124% more – than those who had been told they were on a scenic walk. “Viewing their walk as exercise led them to be less happy and more fatigued,” says lead author, Carolina Werle, professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management in France.

For beginning or veteran exercisers, the bottom line is this says Brian Wansink, author and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab: “Do whatever you can to make your workout fun. Play music, watch a video, or simply be grateful that you're working out instead of working in the office. Anything that brings a smile, is likely to get you to eat less.”