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Sit Down and Move!

Tips for how to exercise from your chair

There’s a saying I like that goes: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Living with diabetes takes a certain degree of toughness. For many (like me), there is daily discomfort of finger sticks and injections. We may have to fight the ever-present food temptations. And we are encouraged to stay physically active even when countless obstacles stand in our way.

For those dealing with limited mobility, or those who have sedentary jobs and not much time to get up and get moving, things might seem particularly tough. So tough that the only exercise you get may be the act of throwing in the towel. But now, more than ever, is when you need to get moving! Physical activity is extremely beneficial for those with limited mobility. It helps to burn calories, which may help with weight management; it improves functional capacity for performing daily chores; it may help with a variety of health measures; and, I believe, does a world of good for one’s emotional well-being.

If you think you’re without options because of limited mobility, think again! You don’t have to run a marathon or go twelve rounds with the champ to experience good physical activity. Anything that gets your muscles working, gets your heart rate up, and gets you breathing heavier over a period of time counts as “exercise.” And here’s the kicker: You can accomplish all of that without getting out of your chair.

Talk to your diabetes care team about whether seated exercise might be right for you. If so, here are plenty of fun, safe ways to increase physical activity from a seated position, including:

Using hand weights or resistance bands  

There are many strengthening exercises you can do with simple household objects (like cans or bottles) or stretchable bands, all from a seated position: arm curls, tricep extensions, shoulder presses, front lifts, wrist curls, shrugs, side raises, shoulder rolls, and side bends, just to name a few. (The American Council on Exercise has information about how to do these exercises and more.) Start out slow, doing two sets of ten repetitions. Add one repetition each day until you can do two sets of fifteen, then increase the weight and begin again with two sets of ten.

Tennis ball hand-offs

Almost any hand-sized object will do. First pass the ball behind your head to the other hand. Then pass it behind your back. Then lean over and go around each calf. Then lift your legs one at a time and pass the ball under each thigh. Perform each exercise twenty times in each direction. I’ve found this one to be great for building dexterity, flexibility, hand-eye coordination, and aerobic conditioning.

Armchair aerobics videos 

A number of companies produce armchair exercise videotapes and DVDs that you can play at home. Most feature musical, upbeat exercise sessions performed completely in a seated position. One of my favorites for beginners are the sessions produced by Armchair Fitness. If you’re ready for a more challenging exercise experience, try the chair dancing series or any of the variety of choices at Chair Aerobics, where you’ll find videos on chair boxing, chair yoga, chair salsa dancing, and yes, chair belly dancing!

Crank up the ergometer 

An arm-ergometer is sort of like a bicycle for the arms, building upper body strength, range of motion, and overall conditioning. Tabletop models make it easier to fit into your home; I suggest just cranking away while you watch TV or listen to music.

Basic isometrics 

Whether you have limited lower-body mobility or are simply stuck in a car (or plane or meeting) for a long time, isometric exercise can help improve strength and blood flow. Push down on the arms of your chair for a count of ten, three times. Then push the palms of your hands against each other. Reach around and pull your shoulder forwards, one arm at a time. Tighten your abdominal muscles and then release. Press your upper back into the back of your chair. Push the side of your head against your hand. There are an almost unlimited number of ways to work your muscles … without moving an inch!

My bottom line is this: You can take your situation sitting down, or you can try to dig in, get tough, and get moving. Regardless of your physical limitations, there are ways to remain physically active … it just takes a little bit of desire, and a little bit of toughness. I believe you can do it!

Gary Scheiner, MS, CDE*, is a Master’s-Level Exercise Physiologist who has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than twenty-eight years. He was named 2014 Diabetes Educator of the Year by the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and has written six books, including Think Like A Pancreas. Scheiner and his clinical staff provide diabetes management consultations worldwide via phone and the Internet through his practice, Integrated Diabetes Services. Scheiner is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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