By: Ron Zacker
When it comes to exercise, there’s literally no place but home for some of us. Many people cite a lack of transportation, finances or time as reasons for not going to a gym or fitness center. And many rural areas simply don’t have gyms or fitness centers. Whether real or perceived, these problems do bring one option to the fore—exercising at home.
Your house does, after all, offer certain advantages. It’s never crowded; you won’t have to fight traffic, weather or parking; and the hours are such that you can work out any time—day or night. Exercising at home can even serve as a nice alternative, or adjunct, for people who already exercise elsewhere.
For the Novice
You can perform exercises at home that don’t require any equipment and won’t cost you a penny. If you have been sedentary for some time and are out of condition, this might be a good place to start.
Walking is an exercise you can perform anywhere, including in your own neighborhood. Put on a pair of shoes that fit well and go for it. Try to walk at a brisk pace for as long as you are comfortable. Listening to music or talk radio or walking with a friend will distract you—enabling you to walk longer distances at a faster pace without feeling so fatigued. You can walk every day if you like, but walking three to five times per week consistently is an excellent goal.
Walking at a brisk pace is an example of aerobic exercise, which works your heart muscle. However, you still need to exercise your skeletal muscles with stretching and strengthening movements. So, in addition to walking, you’ll want to perform some exercises for strength and flexibility, two to four times per week.
Two terrific guides for such exercises that you can do at home are the “American College of Sports Medicine’s Fitness Book” ($8.95 at www.amazon.com) and “Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging,” which you can receive free by calling (800) 222-2225.
Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst
Inclement weather is one of the most common excuses for not exercising. Having a piece of aerobic exercise equipment at home will eliminate this barrier and also will provide you with some variety.
The most popular examples of home aerobic equipment are treadmills, stationary bicycles, and cross-country skiing, stair-stepping or rowing machines. When selecting this equipment, keep the following considerations in mind.
To prevent boredom and injuries caused by overuse of certain muscles, choose a piece of equipment that doesn’t closely mimic the exercise you perform outside. For instance, if you normally ride your bike when the sun is shining, you probably don’t want a stationary bike for rainy days. And if walking is your main outdoor activity, you might be better off with something other than a treadmill for your indoor exercise. Different exercises challenge your body in different ways, and variety is welcomed by the body and the mind alike.
- Don’t Purchase Anything Unless You’ve Tried It
You wouldn’t buy a car based on viewing a television infomercial, so don’t purchase exercise equipment without a test drive. Otherwise, you may end up with a piece of equipment that doesn’t fit correctly or one that you can’t use without experiencing pain. Remember also that you should expect to pay more for a quality piece of equipment. The TV special of the day is no bargain in the long run. Searching the classifieds for used equipment can save you money.
- Your TV Is a Workout Tool
You probably already have a piece of exercise equipment at home, and I’m not talking about that Ab-Roller under your bed. If you own a VCR, you own a piece of fitness equipment. Consider workout videos as inexpensive—though just as effective—alternatives to outdoor exercise or other indoor aerobic machines.
- Videos come in many different flavors and for all levels of fitness. A good resource for deciding which video is best for you is Collage Videos. You can reach them at (800) 433-6769 or visit their Web site at www.collagevideo.com. Their catalog currently lists 372 different videos, including specialty sections for “seniors” and “special situations” that offer lower-intensity choices. Some of the videos even offer exercises you can do while seated in a chair
When You’ve Outgrown the Soup Cans
Once your aerobic exercise needs are covered, it’s time to start thinking about additional strength-training methods.
Strength training is synonymous with progressive resistance exercise, the key word being “progressive.” No matter how out of condition you were to begin with, you will eventually reach a point where your muscles require a greater challenge if you expect to make further progress. In other words, you’ll outgrow the easier movements.
Keep these considerations in mind when selecting your strength-training equipment.
- Avoid the Products Advertised on Television Infomercials
An “all-in-one” machine sounds great until you realize there is no variety beyond the few movements the machine is able to perform. Boredom is harmful to you both mentally and physically.
The other big problem with the machines advertised (besides their often poor quality and lack of fit) is that they are usually promoted as being miracle workers. They are not.
- Purchase Bands and Tubes
Weights intimidate people, so you may want to begin your ascent into progressive resistance with the purchase of some exercise “bands” or “tubes.” These resemble big rubber bands, and they provide resistance to your muscles when you use them during certain movements. The best part is that they don’t hurt if you drop one on your foot.
One reputable supplier of such equipment is Simple Fitness Solutions. The owner, Deborah Mullen, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. It’s always a plus to purchase equipment from qualified experts rather than telephone operators or sales people. You can receive a free catalog or speak with Deborah at (888) 283-0292, or you can log on to the Web at www.simplefitnesssolutions.com.
Moving to the Heavier Stuff
When you’ve outgrown the bands, you’ll finally be ready for some weights. The most versatile and effective equipment you can buy is a set of adjustable dumbbells and an adjustable “weight bench.” Those three pieces of equipment will allow you to train every muscle in your body in innumerable ways. If you have the available space, you might add additional equipment, such as a leg press or cable pull-down machine, at some point.
Commercial-grade equipment is usually worth the extra money.
How Do I Use This Stuff?
As I mentioned in the January 2002 issue of Diabetes Health (“Personal Training Myths,” p. 46), working with a qualified exercise professional is the best way to learn how to perform resistance exercise.
Of course, other options do exist, such as instructional videos on performing weight training. (At least one, “Keys to Weight Training,” is listed in the Collage Video catalog.) Many books on the subject are available as well. Although lengthy, “Weight Training for Dummies,” by Liz Neporent and Suzanne Schlosberg (Hungry Minds, 2000), is a good reference for learning how to perform resistance exercise.
Clinical adviser’s note: Before beginning an exercise program, people with diabetes should undergo a medical examination, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). They should be screened for both large and small blood vessel complications that may be worsened by certain types of exercise. At a minimum, this exam should include a cardiovascular evaluation, a dilated-eye exam, a foot exam to rule out circulatory and nerve disease, and a urine microalbumin check to rule out kidney disease. Then individualized exercise prescriptions can be designed to minimize risk. People taking diabetes medications that may cause low blood glucose (insulin or insulin secretagogues such as glyburide, glipizide or glimiperide) need to take action to prevent exercise-induced hypoglycemia (see “To Snack or Not to Snack,” p. 54). People with type 1 diabetes especially need to use caution and avoid exercise if blood-glucose levels are above 250 mg/dl and ketones are present and use caution if glucose levels are above 300 mg/dl even if no ketones are present, according to the ADA. Blood-glucose monitoring before and after exercise is recommended.