Throughout November, the diabetes community has been up to serious Good Things advocacy-wise for Diabetes Awareness Month. Many of my favourite things are initiatives like the Big Blue Test or Connected in Motion‘s World Diabetes Day Scavenger Hunt, that help create awareness while getting people–with and without–diabetes active at the same time.
To close off the month, Allison Nimlos offered to share some of her thoughts about exercise and type one diabetes–and how, despite the ever-constant and ever-changing variables that come into play when managing exercise with diabetes, it is worth it to persevere.
After 19 years of living with type 1 diabetes, there are two things I know for sure about diabetes and exercise.
1) Exercise is essential for managing diabetes.
2) Exercise is a nightmare for managing diabetes.
No, this isn’t the Twilight Zone, but it is a fairly well-known fact that exercise is both amazing and horrible when it comes to managing type 1 diabetes. For type 2 diabetics, who rarely deal with low blood sugars, exercise is almost all good. But with type 1 diabetes, it gets quite complicated.
In managing type 1 diabetes, you’re basically a juggler. You’re juggling known factors, like insulin and food, but you’re also dealing with unknown factors, like hormones and stress, which can impact how your body responds to insulin. They aren’t anything you can control, so you just have to deal with things as they come. Exercise is sort of in between. Exercise is something you’re aware of — obviously, you know when you’re exercising — but the effects of exercising can vary from person to person, activity to activity, and even day to day!
Because of this, I’ve never been much into fitness. It’s actually easier, in some ways, not to be athletic because it’s one less variable to worry about. That doesn’t mean it’s good for you! Of course, it takes a lot of time and practice to figure out how your body responds to different exercise routines and what your blood sugar target levels should be. Diabetes is a very individual disease!
For instance, yesterday I ran a mile at the gym and ended my workout at a great blood sugar. Today, I ran another mile, and ended with a low blood sugar. Frustrating! But on the flipside, I also know that fitness helps me become less insulin resistant, which means my insulin works even better, my blood sugars in the long run will be lower and more stable, and my body will also be healthier in other ways. One of the major complications of diabetes is heart disease, so having a healthy heart and body through fitness is another excellent way to achieve that.
Here are some tips that I have for switching from being a non-exerciser to an exerciser when you have diabetes:
1) Stay observant. Diabetes changes depending on the variables, and it becomes a little easier to manage when you start paying attention to all the variables. From food and insulin, blood sugars before, during and after exercising, and even time of day, all those can impact your diabetes. Once you see what combinations are more successful, you can start trying to duplicate them.
2) Food isn’t the enemy. A lot of people don’t want to exercise because they are afraid of low blood sugars, and that means eating. But calories and carbohydrates can actually help you lose weight and be healthy. The right food is fuel! So eating does not necessarily mean you’re discounting your entire workout.
3) Be consistent. It takes practice, and a lot of people want to give up after the first workout because things aren’t perfect. But just like your first run or first time at yoga isn’t going to be great, your first time managing diabetes while exercising probably won’t be great either. You have stick with it, make adjustments, and even talk to your “coach” (doctor or diabetes educator) before you eventually get to the point where things will be easier.
There are also many inspirational athletes with diabetes that constantly remind me not to let my diabetes get in the way. From Phil Southerland, who cycled across America, to Zippora Karz, who was a prima ballerina, to Will Cross, who climbed Mt. Everest, there’s no accomplishment that is out of reach for a person with diabetes. However, one thing I have learned time and again is the need for practice. It’s like training for a marathon. You don’t just go out there and run 26.2 miles. You have to start slow, practice, train, talk to people, and learn. Only then can you be successful!
It can be so difficult to adjust to something new. Not only is it physically difficult if you’re not used to running or cycling, but it can also be difficult to stay on top of your blood sugars, because your routine is completely changed. In the long run (no pun intended!), the benefits outweigh the negatives, and I’m personally more committed to fitness than ever. Plus, with the support of the Diabetes Online Community, my endocrinologist, my diabetes educator and, of course, my husband, I know that I can manage my diabetes and stay fit.
Thanks Allison! Allison blogs at With Faith and Grace, and is an active diabetes advocate, member of the diabetes online community (DOC) and writer for Diabetes Mine. Currently Allison is pursuing studies that will lead her towards nursing and becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator, creating for diabetes awareness at Blue Cupcake Press . . . all in addition to maintaining an active and balanced life with type 1 diabetes. You can find Allison on Twitter at @WithFaithGrace.