Thursday, May 31, 2018 - 22:09

All of us know how overwhelming staying healthy can be, especially when diabetes is part of the equation. Diabetes can also throw brain chemicals and hormones off balance, so most of you will not be surprised to learn diabetes and depression are linked. Up to 30% of those living with diabetes experience depression at some point, and often multiple points in their lives1. I certainly have experienced periods of depression in my 39 years of living with diabetes.

Depression should not be swept under a rug or denied; instead, it should be effectively treated. Treatment for depression may involve counselling, medication, and cognitive behavioural therapy. An important component of cognitive behavioural therapy is exercise. And that mind-body connection is just as helpful even when you’re not depressed, but are feeling down or stressed out.

When my kids were young (and I was young), being active was easy because I was always running after them or taking them places. Now that my kids are adults, and I am in my 50s with a full-time job and myriad responsibilities, I have to be very intentional about making time for exercise. My stress level goes down dramatically when I exercise, and problems that seemed overwhelming often appear less daunting. Exercise clears my mind and helps me cope more effectively. And honestly, exercise helps me maintain my glucose levels in my target range, and when my glucose level is in target, I feel better!

In fact, exercise is likely the most underutilised antidepressant available to all of us! If you’ve ever taken a brisk walk or a run after a stressful day, you likely felt better afterwards. But not only does exercise elevate mood in the immediate period following activity, the positive effects are long-term. I think sometimes we consider exercise a “punishment” our healthcare provider mandates because we’re overweight or our cholesterol levels are not optimal, but I want you to change that perspective on exercise, and make it about you feeling better. Say it out loud – “I want to feel better!!” There will be health benefits such as strengthening your heart, lowering your blood pressure, and reducing your body fat, which are all awesome effects, but focus on how exercise affects your mood most of all.

Six Positive Benefits of Exercise to Help Battle the Blues2:

  1. Reduces stress
  2. Improves sleep (which improves glucose levels)3
  3. Boosts self-esteem
  4. Increases energy levels (who couldn’t use more energy?)
  5. Makes you look fit and healthy (Nice!)
  6. Reduces anxiety

Twelve Examples of Moderate Exercise to Help Lift your Spirits:

  • Home activities: Gardening (a favourite!), yard-work (mowing, raking, shovelling), housework (vacuuming, sweeping, mopping), washing a car
  • Sporting activities: golfing (walking, not using cart), dancing, tennis, biking (a favourite!)
  • Leisure activities: walking (a favourite!), jogging slowly, swimming, yoga

Six Tips to Help You Get Started:

  1. Choose an activity you enjoy! Exercise should be fun, not a chore. Any form of moderate exercise can help ward off depression.
  2. Make exercise a part of your schedule. Put it on your calendar if it helps. Often having an exercise buddy helps keep you on track and provides emotional support.
  3. Vary your exercises so you don’t get bored. After all, variety is the spice of life!
  4. Set reasonable goals. Start with 20 minutes, three times a week, and work up to 30 minutes, five times a week. You can break these up into 10-minute sessions two or three times each day if that’s all the time you have available. Remember, something is better than nothing!
  5. Stick with it! It will become part of your regular routine and help ward off depression. If you miss a day or a few days, don’t sweat it; every day is a new day and a new chance to get moving!
  6. Talk with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine to make sure it’s safe for you, and discuss how an exercise program or physical activity fits into your health goals.

Choose a few that you like, then get out there, get moving and feel better! If you exercise regularly, but depression still interferes with your daily life, be sure to see your healthcare provider.

*Editor’s note: This post was reproduced from a The LOOP publication on October 20, 2015


Guest Blogger – Gina Addy McKelvey, FNP, CDE

Gina Addy McKelvey is a Family Nurse Practitioner, Certified Diabetes Educator, and Medtronic Diabetes Clinical Manager in Charleston, South Carolina. She has been living with type 1 diabetes for 39 years, and believes those living with diabetes can live long, healthy, productive, happy lives. She’s thrilled about the advances in diabetes management she’s witnessed over 39 years, and believes the best is yet to come. Gina has used insulin pump therapy for over 25 years, and continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) for about 6 years.


  1. Woolston, C. Diabetes and Depression. Health Day. 2015. http://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/depression-12/depression-news-176/diabetes-and-depression-643976.html
  2. Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity. Mayo Clinic. 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389
  3. Dumain, T. Sleep Hacks To Lower Your Blood Sugar. Prevention. 2011. http://www.prevention.com/health/diabetes/how-sleep-can-improve-your-blood-sugar

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