Fit to Be Tied
Overcoming the frustrations of diabetes and exercise.
By Kerri Sparling
January 2008 — I used to be great at making up excuses: too busy, too tired, too low, too high, too bored, too uninspired. My brain was trained to blurt out excuses for avoiding exercise. My exercise routine was a sad state of affairs, and my body paid the price with a higher BMI and fluctuating A1Cs. After realizing that my stress levels, blood sugars, and pants sizes could all be lowered with the help of some good old-fashioned running around, I set my mind to achieve a fitter state of mind and body.
I wanted to be a gym rat when I grew up!
So much of my life revolves around the pursuit of good health. There's my job, where I am often found perusing diabetes-related press releases, checking out the latest websites about endocrine health and wellness, and writing about what day-to-day life with diabetes entails.
Then there's my handsome fianc, who has spent time as a personal trainer, writes for various fitness venues, eats a regimented, healthy diet, and has a physique that is evidence of time well-spent at the gym.
Oh, and then there is the whole "wedding dress" thing, where everyone will be looking at me in a few months on a May afternoon. And there's also my disease, which I manage with an insulin pump, my meter, attempts at healthy eating, and regular exercise.
Ah, regular exercise. It was hard to make exercise a part of the daily routine. There are so many things that seem more important, like work and home duties and errands to run. I forget sometimes that maintaining my body is just as important as going to the post office. The stronger my body, the better-controlled my diabetes becomes as a result.
There were three big hurdles for me to leap over before I could be a self-proclaimed gym rat.
The first was the physical burden of my gym bag. I am known at my gym for being "the girl with all the stuff." I always have a gym bag, crammed with my glucose meter, a water bottle, a sports bottle of juice, a back-up insulin pen with Humalog in it – not to mention the jumprope, iPod, and sweatshirt. These items are my workout security blanket, keeping me safe while I challenge my body. Overcoming this hardware hurdle just took some time and planning, making sure I was never caught without my supplies.
The second hurdle was that of self-consciousness. It's easy to gallop on the treadmill and lift weights in front of the mirror when your body is tight and your muscles are responsive. It's a bit more of a challenge to physically exert yourself when you feel self-conscious about every move you make. It took over a year for me to actually feel comfortable trying new exercises, attempting creative resistance routines, and even running on the treadmill. Determination and desire to be healthy helped me leave this hurdle behind, too.
But the third hurdle was the biggest one for me, and one that I still grapple with every time I'm working out – managing my numbers. For as long as I can remember, my blood sugars have been very sensitive to exercise. A short walk is enough to drop my blood sugar a good 30 points. An aggressive run can send me plummeting more than 100 mg/dl. It's been a constant challenge to negotiate numbers while working out, involving a complex combination of disconnecting my insulin pump, high protein and high fat snacks before workouts, and constant glucose monitoring.
At first, my numbers bounced all over the place, ranging from 30 mg/dl to 300 mg/dl on any given day. But as my body adjusted to the workouts and my muscle mass increased, I noticed bigger trends of glucose stability. If I disconnected my pump approximately 20 minutes before my workout and left it off during the entirety of my 50 minute session, my numbers held relatively steady. I'm careful to test at the halfway point of any workout, and I don't let my numbers drop below 120 mg/dl without taking a swig of juice to ward of any lows. Overall, my body has adjusted to a workout regimen of 5 days a week, and my diabetes has followed suit.
Months of fine-tuning have me at my current state: bona fide gym rat. I can hold my own with the best of them now, engaging in difficult cardio-circuit workouts, cycles of challenging resistance training, and even feeling confident in my achievements. There are still moments of frustration, where my body and my numbers aren't in tune, but I keep moving forward. This is the only body I'll have, and it deserves my respect, determination, and constant push towards good health.
Visit Kerri's website.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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