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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Activity

Hear from people with diabetes who have discovered the importance of keeping active. It doesn’t matter whether it’s something small or new, or just that little bit more of something you already do — all physical activity is good for diabetes.

Amanda stands in a garden smiling

Amanda SkingleDiagnosed with type 1 in 2001

Getting active after my surgery

A year after my surgery, as I was getting my strength back, my sister-in-law, Cheryl, saw Swim22 advertised on Facebook. I needed to start being more active, and swimming seemed like a good option. It’s the one sport that I actually enjoy doing. I was still in and out of the hospital, adjusting to my medication, so I signed up for 11 miles with Cheryl doing the other half.

When I started training, I struggled to swim 12 lengths in an hour. There were times I felt like swimming through treacle. But within three months, I was doing 50 lengths in an hour.

My family kept me going. We got into a little routine where three generations would swim together on a Sunday morning. It was a great way of getting us all together.

This year, we managed to rope in Mike and his mum to our team. I’d swum four miles when Covid hit. As a transplant recipient, I had to shield. My consultant still isn’t keen on me going back to the pool, but next year I’m going to do the full 22 miles.

Taking part in Swim22 helped my recovery so much. Despite all the upheaval of this year, I’m in the best place I’ve been for a long time.

Read Amanda Skingle's complete story
Neil looks to the camera wearing warm clothes

Neil HunterDiagnosed with type 2 in 2005

Managing my diabetes in extreme conditions

I was told that the cold might have an effect on my blood sugar, but I didn’t particularly notice that. When I was doing my Arctic training, I was using a blood glucose monitor and it was affected by the cold. Then you have to expose your hands to do the prick You could only do that in the tent as it’s too cold outside. So, the hardest thing was that I could only test in the morning and in the evening. In the meantime, I just had to rely on how I felt. I’m quite lucky in that my body will tell me when I’m going low. That, and stopping my insulin from too cold, was tricky.

Diabetes makes you more prone to having circulation problems, but I’m fortunate that I haven’t experienced that. I have had frost nip from exposure in the mountains. Only mild, but once you’ve had that you’re more susceptible to it again. So, you have to spend some time rewarming if your hands get too cold. It’s one of those things. You haven’t got a great deal of other things to do, other than skiing and sleep, so stopping to warm your hands up from time to time is no biggie, but you’ve got to do it. Otherwise the cold will have you.

When I went to the South Pole, I used a FreeStyle Libre. I wanted to know what my blood sugars were doing every hour or whenever I stopped for a break. As it happened, it was a fantastic piece of kit. Portsmouth University has a cold weather chamber which I got to use with all my kit on, using the monitor, and knew it was going to work.

Read Neil Hunter's complete story
Michelle stands on a beach, smiling

Michelle Griffith-Robinson OLY

Getting into sport

When I was 12 years old, my mum had a keep fit class at our local sports ground and I went along with her. I was bored, so I joined in with some people at running track. That was the start of my long love affair with track and field.

I was very fast, always the best at school, always would beat the boys, and I recognised then that I had a big ability and a big talent. When my school recognised I had an ability, I was encouraged a lot, particularly by two of my PE teachers.

I loved it. I loved the training vibe, the fact that there were different communities, diversities. It didn’t matter what your background was. All that was important was being at the track with people around you with a similar mindset, which was to do sport.

My greatest achievement was walking out, wearing my team GB tracksuit, into the 1996 Olympic Games. I also represented Great Britain in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

I was the first woman to jump over 14m in the Commonwealth. That was a big achievement. Breaking milestones made me want to encourage and inspire others that they could also do great things.

When you compete at that level, it takes over everything. But I am such a big advocate of sport because of the benefits. They are huge. Sport has equipped me with so many life skills. You learn emotional intelligence, you know when you have to work hard. I use sport as a vehicle, to allow me to branch out to different things. It’s afforded me so much.

I don’t care if my three children don’t do sport to a competitive level. But what I would like to see is that everyone is able to participate in sport – at any level. It’s down to schools to encourage that, because you don’t know what hidden talents are out there.

After I retired, I did take my foot off the gas in terms of training. I started living a much more relaxed life. I set different goals for myself. So, I did some half marathons, kickboxing, weight training. I’ve always loved what fitness gives me.

Read Michelle Griffith-Robinson OLY's complete story
Darren Armitstead exercising on bike.jpg

Darren ArmitsteadDiagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2018, at age 50.

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!

Read Darren Armitstead's complete story
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PaulDiagnosed in August 2018

Making changes

I got back from Newcastle on the Monday and decided I needed to get started. I went to see the diabetes nurse who talked about control with diet and exercise only, but there wasn’t a lot of in-depth information. I’ve never had diabetes medication prescribed. Looking back, I don’t think people are made aware of just how much they can do themselves. I never got a huge sense that I could change much or put myself into remission. I was also put on blood pressure medication.

I went on the DESMOND course but didn’t learn a great deal, as I’d done a lot of the research myself. In fact, the research frightened the life out of me. The thought of losing my eyesight was the key motivator. I thought to myself, if there’s anything I can do about this then I’ll do whatever it takes. 

I started out simply by walking. I used to be pretty fit when I was younger and would go to the gym four times a week. But now I wanted to take up exercise that was realistic and I could incorporate into my day. 

I knew that my diet needed to change drastically, too. A typical meal before my diagnosis was lots of carbs – always big portions of bread and potatoes. So I changed to a low-carb, high-fat and low in saturates diet, and cut out sweet stuff altogether. I also loved salt, which is why my blood pressure had always been high, but I haven’t touched a salt cellar since my diagnosis. Diabetes UK’s website and the Carbs & Cals book and app really helped.
 

Read Paul's complete story
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