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Keeping active with diabetes while shielding: Darren’s story

Darren Armitstead exercising on bike.jpg

Darren Armitstead

Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2018, at age 50.

Some things are out of our control and we can’t do anything about them. But the things we can control, we should. Like keeping physically active.

Darren, engineer come stand-up comedian, lives with type 2 diabetes and arthritis. He takes immune suppressant pills for his arthritis, and so has been shielding during the coronavirus pandemic. Darren has created his own mini gym in his garden to keep active while shielding.


Initial confusion

I was diagnosed with diabetes about two years ago, through a routine check-up. I went to the doctors because I always felt tired. I was also diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis about five years earlier, and I need to keep moving to ease the arthritis. So keeping active benefits both of my conditions.

When I was first told “you’re diabetic” I thought, “what does that mean?” I didn’t know much about it, and I didn’t see it as a death sentence. The doctor gave me a list of ‘do’s and don’ts’ for food and exercise. To eat more fruit and vegetables, and exercise more. To be honest, I do feel I should learn more about diabetes. At the moment I also take metformin to manage my condition.

Journey with diabetes

Family life

I’ve got a supportive family around me, my four sons and daughter, my fiancée Denise and my dog Molly. Denise and I had to postpone our wedding due to Covid, which was tough. On top of that, we’ve both not been able to work. Denise worries about me, wants to protect me. I’m worried too sometimes, but I try to stay positive

Before Covid, I’d recently got into stand-up comedy. My eldest son was the reason I started, as he also performs stand-up comedy. I told him that I think I’m funnier than him, to which he replied, ‘’prove it!’’ So, I did (although he will still insist he is funnier).


I’ve been shielding from the start of the pandemic because I take immune suppressant pills for my arthritis. The first two weeks were spent watching TV and worrying about money! I have now returned to work but during lockdown I was put in furloughed, due to lack of orders at work. Being an engineer and normally on my feet all day at work – I really missed being busy. I was also the chief dog walker before the pandemic struck, but I’ve had to miss out on that while shielding. 

When the mortgage holiday came though, it helped us a lot mentally. It’s been a really stressful time, as it has for many others.


Finding new ways to stay active

Some things are out of our control and we can’t do anything about them. But the things we can control, we should. Like keeping physically active. 

I realised that I needed to find a way to keep busy and active, so I started by building a gym at the bottom of the garden. My son and I egg each other on while working out together. We have an exercise bike, a rowing machine and some weights. I’ve also joined a walking football group and take part in a keepy-uppy competition of 1000 a week. Having a goal and challenging each other really helps keep me motivated. 

I’ve only recently started leaving the house, taking our dog Molly out again, as well as the occasional trip to the shops.

Darren Armitstead in his homebuilt gym

Advice for others

My advice for others trying to get active at the moment is to first get in the right frame of mind mentally. Try not to see exercise, in any shape of form, as a chore. Cleaning the windows is active, hoovering is stretching, and so is painting the house. Even getting up and down when weeding is good exercise. When I’m on the exercise bike, I watch TV and don’t even realise I’m exercising. I plod along at a steady pace and my knees aren’t great, but I still manage to do it.

And exercising with someone else is much more fun than doing it alone, if you can – especially with lots of options online at the moment. I never thought I would consider doing a live Pilates class on Zoom (I am far too ‘tough’ for that), but surprisingly, I enjoyed it. Just don’t tell my mates that!

Diabetes UK and me

Learning more about Diabetes UK

I’ve been part of the We are Undefeatable campaign, with Diabetes UK and lots of other charities. The filming was both fun and cathartic – I didn’t think I’d open up, but I did. I was able to balance some of the more serious stuff with my usual dad jokes.

I’ve only recently heard of Diabetes UK, through the We are Undefeatable campaign, so I haven’t had the chance to do any fundraising yet – watch this space!

Struggling with being active?

We’re now able to offer practical advice and support to help you move more in your day-to-day. If you’re interested in finding out more email Francesca at to arrange a chat or call 0345 123 2399.

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