The Diabetes Bike Zone
Balancing the variables has her spinning wheels.
with Amy Tenderich
Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!
After two decades of light jogging and aerobics to stay fit, it was definitely time for a change. I signed myself up for the American Diabetes Association's June Tour de Cure event in Northern California, bought a new bike and some very chic cycling duds, and am now learning to pedal "clipped in" (using special bike shoes that fasten your feet to the pedals for better positioning and power) without toppling over at every stop sign. So it seems that I've taken up a new sport.
While it's marvelous to feel the wind in your face and experience the landscape free of that large metal shell we usually travel in, the cycling has also upset my balance in some ways.
My first mentor with type 1 diabetes was a very kind woman who patiently explained to me that diabetes "is all about the balance between the food you eat, the meds you take, and the exercise you do." Changing any one of these things "upsets the triad," so to speak. Now that I've suddenly integrated regular cycling tours into my routine, her words have come to life.
Eat, Sleep, Cycle
Getting the balance right with diabetes is a constant game of trial and error anyway. Doesn't it seem like every time you think you've figured just the right menu choices to keep your glucose levels in check, something goes haywire and you start getting different results? So now here I am eating my low-carb breakfast and wondering how much to cut back my bolus dose versus reducing my basal rate before and during a ride. Of course it depends on how soon I'll start riding, and how long and hard I will ride today. Oh-so-many variables! I could scream…
At least it's comforting to know that even the serious triathletes with diabetes spend a lot of time experimenting with different strategies. Some have their insulin pumps coded with a variety of basal programs for different levels of exertion, while others don't reduce their basal at all, but just eat before and during workouts.
The trial and error actually extends to all sorts of things – including where to best stash your glucose meter and finding the right sports drinks and energy bars (minus the high-fructose corn syrup, thank you very much!).
"Overnight lows" is no longer just weather report terminology; any time I'm on the bike longer than 3½ hours at a stretch, I've found that my blood glucose (BG) takes a nose dive at night that cannot even be corrected with an average snack. Probably time for me to set a special overnight basal program for those post-long-ride nights. But I also know that as I get fitter, the new workouts won't knock my BG down as dramatically, either. Confused yet? Me too, but it's worth it, really! There's something very special about cycling.
Passion and Power Source
"All athletes love their sports, but cycling has a fetishistic side to it – the love of this deceptively simple machine that allows you to silently float, race and climb," writes Garth Battista, editor of the passionate short story collection, "Bicycle Love".
His authors "celebrate the freedom of cycling, the elegance of the machine and the beauty of the act," Battista adds. Gliding through redwood forests with a sweeping view of the San Francisco Bay, I know just what this guy is talking about.
Even as a secondary hobby, cycling is an excellent way to loosen up and relax, while working your leg muscles and increasing your flexibility. Of course for the aerobic benefits, you've got to "peddle at a respectable cadence which elevates your heart rate."
I cycled before, in my former life without diabetes, but never liked it all that much because it felt like such a struggle. This time, I've started out right: investing in some excellent equipment and taking it slow to begin with, building up gradually to longer (and steeper) routes.
I've also found that the diabetes is almost like a power source, too, because I no longer spend nary a minute worrying about whether I'm fit enough to make it the next 6 miles. Instead, I'm thinking, "I can do this, I know I can, if I can just keep my BG levels in range." I'm too busy wondering if it's time to eat some carbs or stop to test my BG to bother being anxious about the course itself.
I'm also just grateful every day that my legs work well enough to allow me to cycle. With a chronic disease, basic fitness is never a given.
The only thing that really bugs me are the bugs: in and under my sunglasses, in the ear, the nostrils, stuck on my tongue – bugs everywhere! My daughters keep telling me, "They're nutritious!" which is my fault, since that's what I kept saying whenever our cat ate one.
Oh well, still worth it. ‘Cause my new sport is also my new passion. And my new ambition is to conquer the "balance issue" at Diabetes Training Camp next year. Wish me luck!
* Amy Tenderich is co-author of the new book, Know Your Numbers, Outlive Your Diabetes.
Read more about Amy Tenderich.
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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