How do you motivate and inspire patients to get fit?

By Barb Gormley

Regular physical activity is an important part of good diabetes management, but sometimes it is hard for people to incorporate into their daily routines. That’s where health-care professionals can help. Here are tips and advice from three diabetes education centres, which are part of the Diabetes Education Standards Recognition Program of Diabetes Canada’s Diabetes Educator (or Professional) Section.

  1. Adult Diabetes Centres at Trillium Health Partners (Credit Valley Hospital and the Mississauga Hospital, Mississauga, Ont.)

This is the largest outpatient diabetes program in the country. The team currently works with more than 12,000 adults who have diabetes, prediabetes, or gestational diabetes. “Our new patients often tell us they had no idea that regular exercise, even three 10-minute bouts of walking per day, could have such a huge impact on their blood

sugar levels and make them feel so much healthier and energetic,” says Stacey Horodezny, who manages the diabetes programs.

Tip : “We recommend patients check their blood sugar before and immediately after physical activity to see for themselves what a difference activity can make,” says Horodezny. “We find that this motivates people to do even more activity, which helps to further reduce their blood sugar and support any weight loss goals they may have.”

Tip : “Whenever possible, we also encourage patients to get their family and friends moving with them, to make physical activity and healthy living more fun and to help them stick with it,” says Horodezny.

  1. Grand Bend Area Community Health Centre (Grand Bend, Ont.)

The centre offers programs for people of all ages and abilities, from seniors to young active individuals, and it strongly emphasizes the many health benefits of physical activity for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. “People are pleasantly surprised when they begin exercising with us because we help them choose an activity that they find enjoyable—such as walking, chair exercises, or one of our many fitness classes—and goals that are realistic for them,” says Patricia Baker, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator.

Tip 1: If people get off track, we suggest brainstorming strategies with their diabetes professional right away, says JoAnne Aitken, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at the centre.

Tip 2: It’s important to celebrate your clients’ successes along the way, says Aitken. “For example, some of our clients who lose weight reward themselves with new clothes, and as educators we always verbally recognize their hard work in achieving their goals.”

  1. Youville Diabetes Centre (Winnipeg)

The centre educates, encourages, and supports individuals who are learning to effectively manage their diabetes. “In all of our programming, we stress the importance of physical activity because it has such a dramatic impact on our clients’ health,” says Nettie Strople, who manages the programs at its two locations and coaches its health-care professionals. Its key activity programs are led by a nurse and a counsellor who incorporate exercise with the mindfulness practices of breathing, meditation, and gratitude, to make the programs an experience of mind, body, and spirit. “We know that many people with diabetes and chronic disease often also have depression or anxiety,” says Strople.

Tip 1: To help clients reduce stress and boost confidence, Strople suggests they take advantage of free support groups where they can meet others with similar challenges and develop new skills, such as goal setting; problem solving around barriers such as financial issues or lack of time; and managing negative self-talk.

Tip 2: Remind your clients not to give up or feel guilty if they get off track. Instead, suggest they focus on the positive and what they have accomplished, even if it seems minimal, says Strople. Encourage them to keep working at it, taking small steps to gradually improve eating and physical activity habits to reach their goals.

Barb Gormley is a regular columnist with Diabetes Dialogue, and is also a personal trainer and Nordic walking instructor.