You know that exercise is important. The body just doesn’t work right if you are not moving. In particular, it becomes harder for you to efficiently burn fat when you are sedentary. But even though we know exercise is important, it can be really hard to get it done, right?
Let me tell you about two of my clients, each of whom has diabetes or prediabetes. I was struck by their stories, and I’d like to share a bit with you.
Matthew* uses insulin to control his blood sugar, and he tests his glucose regularly. Over the past year he has gone back and forth from being well-controlled, to not well-controlled, and back to controlled again. Now Mr. L will admit he doesn’t like to exercise. It is hard for him to get out for a walk on a regular basis. But interestingly, the key factor we identified for when he is well-controlled is that during both of these periods he was remodeling his house – first his kitchen and then his garage. And he really enjoys remodeling. He is retired now and having a project like this gives him a sense of purpose.
Kathy* has prediabetes and has always struggled with her weight. She knows the importance of exercise, but it always seemed to be at the bottom of her list of things to do, and the first thing to go undone if time were tight. With social distancing and the COVID-19 epidemic, two things have happened to her routine – she is walking daily and she is not eating as many restaurant meals. Interestingly, she’s dropped 10 pounds and reports that her energy is better than it’s been in years. She now looks forward to her walks because she’s not stressed about all the other things she has to get done. She’s also noticed she’s able to be more present with those around her, becoming a better spouse and friend.
Both of these stories illustrate how it is easier to do what you “know you should do” when it is something you enjoy. If making the healthy choice also ties directly to your sense of purpose – what you value and pursue, like helping others or loving your family – even better. I can tell you that Matthew loves the sense of accomplishment from completing a home improvement project he and his wife can enjoy. And it is good for his health.
We know from the world’s healthiest cultures (see Blue Zones) that one of the common factors they share is frequent, low-intensity physical activity. So remodeling is probably not creating the same physical stress as a walk or a bike ride. But I can tell you from Matthew’s blood sugar levels that his remodeling projects are definitely improving his metabolism. The evidence is right there in the glucose levels. I encouraged Matthew to look for more things to remodel – I am sure he could find friends or neighbors to help if he runs out of things in his own house!
Dr. Topher Fox
*Names changed for privacy