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Tips for Increasing Physical Activity

Physical activity burns calories from the foods we eat and improves the body's ability to use insulin, according to members of Joslin's Exercise Physiology Department.

But because we’ve eliminated many of the physical demands of daily living, we need to find ways of making more physical activity part of our daily routines.

For most people, exercise means workouts involving gyms, equipment, special clothing, etc.

While Joslin staff say workout sessions are great for conditioning, the real key to success is changing your lifestyle by increasing your general level of activity throughout the day, each and every day through incremental, sustained changes to your lifestyle.

Joslin staff offer some tips on how to succeed:

1. Before you do anything, talk with your heathcare provider. Check with your physician, exercise physiologist or diabetes educator before you start any exercise program.

2. Be patient. This may take a while. Staff note that it may take four to six months to start seeing the benefits of increased activity. Remember, while that may seem like a long time, you’re working on a lifestyle change that you’re going to enjoy for the rest of your life.

3. Find opportunities for activity. It’s difficult for people to find the time to add exercise to their already busy schedules. You’re much more likely to succeed with sustained changes to your lifestyle if you can find ways to integrate more physical activity into your existing routine.

  • Get off the bus one stop earlier.
  • Walk to the store.
  • Stand up and move around while making phone calls.
  • Cut back on e-mail. Deliver the message in person.
  • Do your own yard work.
  • Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator.
  • Park as far away from the store as you can.
  • Take a walk around the building at lunch or on your break at work.
  • Walk the dog. Walk with your children.
  • Don’t use the drive-up window.
  • Don’t stay seated for more than 30 minutes.
  • Consider using TV time to work out with an exercise video.

4. Be sure to have some fun by incorporating recreational activities into your plan to help you reach your goal. 

  • Take up a sport (swimming, golfing, bowling, softball, etc.).
  • Go dancing. 
  • Go to a museum, art gallery, flea market, country fair.
  • Go shopping. (It takes well over 1,000 steps to circumnavigate the average shopping mall.)
  • Gather some like-minded friends and start a walking club.

Joslin staff recommend starting slowly and increasing your time until you can do a total of 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day. Also a pedometer is a great tool to help you measure how much change this makes to your daily routine.

5. Set achievable goals. When you start to add physical activity to your daily routines, the level of difficulty you experience will depend on where you start. If you’re already somewhat active, it could be easy. If you’re a true couch potato, it may take some doing. Don’t try to do too much too quickly. Instead, take an incremental approach.

And remember — It’s not what you do, but how well you can do it. As you increase your activity levels, you will increase your fitness level — your capacity for physical activity.

Research has shown that even modest improvements in fitness levels have overall health benefits. And each improvement can propel you to the next stage. For example, your first goal might be to walk up one flight of stairs without having to stop halfway. Climb the stairs every day, but don’t overdo it. Take your time and stick to it. Eventually you will notice that it’s getting easier. 

At that point, you’ll be ready to set your next goal — perhaps walking up two flights, and so on. Gradually integrating more physical activity into your daily routine will improve your chances of making and sustaining the change.

Page last updated: November 07, 2019