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David's story: walking towards a more active lifestyle

David smiling at the camera in front of some deer in a park

David

Diagnosed with type 1 in 1971

I'd never have imagined that a brisk walk every day could have such amazing benefits in so many different ways.

David, 57, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1971. In his story, he reveals how he's changed his attitude towards physical activity, and how a little bit of effort has made a huge difference to how he manages his condition. 

Diagnosis

Getting diagnosed with type 1 diabetes

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in June 1971, aged eight. Like most people in those days, we’d never heard of diabetes before that point. When my mum took me to the doctor because I’d been unwell and lethargic for months, she actually bought some fruit pastilles in the village shop to give to me afterwards, for being a good boy. Of course, I never got to have them.

Diabetes is a lot easier to manage now than it was then, but it’s a full time job keeping it under control. It’s worth the effort. I’m fortunate that, after nearly 50 years, I’ve avoided serious complications.

Life with diabetes

Being reluctant to take part in physical activity

From a young age, I was always unfit. At secondary school, my games teacher was also my biology teacher. He knew that if I ran around like everyone else, there was a good chance I would have a hypo. So, he’d let me sit things out.

I never did all the things that the other kids did, because the adults around me were trying their best to be helpful and prevent any problems with my diabetes. I was always the last one picked for team sports at school and consequently, I didn’t enjoy them. When I left school and no longer had to do any physical activity, I gave up on it altogether.

Over the years, doctors would recommend being more active, but I always felt it was one of those generic things they say to everyone, such as, ‘don’t smoke, don’t drink too much alcohol, don’t have too much sugar.’

If they’d told me I had to go to the gym twice a week for the benefit of my health I’d have done it, but I’d have hated it. But activity was never presented to me as something that would be particularly helpful to my diabetes.

Activity

Making lifestyle changes

I work as a freelancer, sometimes from home, other days at my office in London. One Monday in early 2019, I woke up with a blood sugar of around 6mmol/l. I had my usual breakfast then, as it was a home working day, sat at my computer doing some work.

Around 11am I had to go to the supermarket, so as always, I checked my blood sugar before getting in the car. It had virtually tripled between breakfast and mid-morning. It was quite alarming. But when I did the DAFNE course, they recommended checking everything twice, in case you’ve had a rogue result.

The next day my waking blood sugar was around 6mmol/l again and I had the same breakfast. But instead of staying at home, I was working from the office in central London. So, I walked around a mile from where I parked the car to the train station. Mid-morning, I checked my blood sugar again to see if it was high. To my amazement, it was 3.5mmol/l.

I’d had the same waking blood sugar, the same breakfast, and on one occasion my blood sugar had tripled and on the other it had halved. The only difference was the walk. I thought that was clearly the way forward.

The following day, instead of having my breakfast and immediately sitting on the computer, I went for a half hour walk. Afterwards, my blood sugar was well within range again. I realised that was the key. The exercise plus the insulin was much better for keeping my blood sugars under control.

When I started going for a daily walk, I sometimes found it a bit of a pain. I’d think, I don’t really want to do this today, I’m tired, I have a book to read. But if I didn’t do it, my blood sugar would be high. I realised that staying healthy and keeping my blood sugars under control is more important to me than whether it’s a bit cold and miserable outside.

Noticing the benefits 

At 13 stone and five feet 10 inches, I’m overweight according to the BMI scale, and I’m not athletic. I would struggle to run. But going for a walk is fine and I can manage a reasonably brisk pace. 

I'd also previously had minor problems with sleep apnoea. There were occasions where I'd stop breathing at night and suddenly wake up, which meant my sleep would be broken and I'd often feel tired the next day.

The walking has led to weight loss, which has virtually stopped that problem altogether. I'd never have imagined that a brisk walk every day could have such amazing benefits in so many different ways.

If you are somebody who was diagnosed as a child, and has got into bad habits as a 40 or 50-something, as I have, then it’s very well worth doing. I could recommend it to anyone. My only regret is that I didn’t realise 10 years ago that being more active would make this much difference to my diabetes.

Complications

Being more active and managing hypos

I always test my blood sugar before I go for a walk and always take plenty of hypo treatments with me. I would never go anywhere or do anything energetic without taking those precautions anyway.

Hypos are constantly on your mind, but that’s part and parcel of having diabetes.  I think that might be one of the reasons people with diabetes suffer from anxiety and depression. There are so many things that you have to check and worry about.

I think that if you do a similar walk every day at the same time, you’re unlikely to have a hypo completely out of the blue unless you exert yourself too much or your blood sugar is too low when you set out.

There are lots of variables when it comes to managing your blood sugar, but if you do some activity every day, you can make it work with your diabetes in the same way that having the same food every day does. You shouldn’t get any major surprises. And as long as you are prepared for any potential hypos, you shouldn’t have a problem.

Struggling to move more?

Call our helpline for one-to-one support. Our trained specialists will help you build your confidence and find new ways to get moving. Get in touch by calling 0345 123 2399 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm, or emailing helpline@diabetes.org.uk.

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