It’s hard to stay motivated to exercise when the weather is lousy or there is a foot of snow on the ground.

“But regular exercise in winter is really the best therapy for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, especially because cold weather and short days can trigger depression,” says Jackie Shahar, MEd, RCEP, CDCEC, Manager of Exercise Physiology at Joslin Diabetes Center. “Exercise lowers your blood sugar, helps you sleep and feel better, and increases your energy,” she says. Shahar offers these tips to keep you motivated to stay active year-round!

Make it simple. Since the pandemic shut down, many fitness centers, studios, and trainers have been offering virtual training sessions, which make it very convenient to join a class from home. You save time and can fit in exercise throughout the day. It is especially easier to fit in exercise if you are also working from home. If you are new to exercise or haven’t been active for a while, the first step is going to be hard, so you want to keep it simple. Start small.

“Your muscles have been taking a “nap”. Find ways to exercise to stimulate the muscles to improve glucose control, promote weight loss, feel better and get many more health benefits.”

Jackie Shahar, MEd, RCEP, CDCEC, Manager of Exercise Physiology

Performing outdoor activities became “in” during the pandemic. People discovered new outdoor places to exercise. Consider joining or forming a walking/hiking/running club. This way there is no concern about wearing a mask while exercising while keeping distance and socializing.

Time is a major barrier for many people. Short bouts of exercise accumulated throughout the day are beneficial to increase energy expenditure and promote weight loss. A way to overcome this barrier is by incorporating short bouts of exercise such as 10 minutes of cardio exercise in the morning, 15 minutes of upper body strength training in the afternoon, and another 10 minutes of cardio in the evening. On alternate days, the strength training workout can be focused on the lower body and core strength. Keep in mind that the cardio component should be performed at moderate to high intensity, where the breathing frequency is increasing, and it is difficult to talk but you can sustain the activity. Pay attention to how you feel and listen to your body. 

Don’t focus solely on the outcome. The key is to make whatever you do fun and feel good now, says Shahar. Feeling good is an immediate payoff that will help you push past your comfort zone. For instance, if you look forward to playing a dance-based video game because it feels great, and not just because you’re going to lose five pounds in a month, you’ll probably stick with it over the long run.

“If you think of exercise as a chore, you’ll likely quit altogether a month into it,” she says.

Buy a home workout machine. “Some people like using an elliptical trainer or treadmill, because they can use it when the weather is bad,” says Shahar. “The other benefit is that it’s not limited to winter use. You can jump on it when it’s crazy hot outside or raining.”

Try online options. If you don’t want to purchase equipment, use exercise apps and online and on-demand exercise videos. You can do a search on YouTube for activities that you enjoy performing and you will find many options. Here are some examples for searches you can do: chair yoga class, 1-mile walking indoors, bodyweight strength training, circuit training with free weights, etc. Many exercise apps offer free exercise videos. Think about what you would like to practice and do a search. 

Most smartphones have the ability to count steps and distance. To track your steps or distance accomplished for the day.

In addition, being exposed to light during the winter and socializing are key factors to keeping your mood up during the winter. Bundle up and make time for outdoor activities and soak up that natural light!

Getting a regular amount of moderate exercise or physical activity is important in managing your diabetes. The best way to stay committed to your exercise routine is to try different exercises and pick the ones that feel the best. “Any activity of intermediate intensity is going to help release the endorphins that will make you feel great,” said Shahar. “It’s worth the effort.”


Although this content is reviewed by Joslin Diabetes Center healthcare professionals, it is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.