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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.

Shannon with her daughter on her shoulders, laughing in the countryside

ShannonDiagnosed with type 1 while 28 weeks pregnant with daughter Bronwen

Deciding to run a mararthon

Diabetes was a shock for me. I kept thinking, ‘how am I doing to do this now? How am I going to do that?’ 

Eventually, instead of asking, ‘how?’ I started thinking, ‘I just will.’ It was my way of sticking two fingers up at the condition. 

I’ve always wanted to run the London marathon, and as Diabetes UK is the country’s top diabetes charity, so it was a no-brainer that I’d run for them. It was one of those hare-brained ideas, I guess. I had a lot of time on my own with a newborn to reflect and think, ‘what do I want to achieve?’

My daughter was eight months old when I started training. When I applied for my marathon place, I told Diabetes UK that I needed the support of Dan. I couldn’t do it on my own. They were really good and gave us both a place. 

I did loads of research about diabetes and running, but I couldn’t run a mile on the first training day. My sugars plummeted within minutes

It was at that point I started to self-fund the FreeStyle Libre, which is now on prescription for people with type 1 diabetes, because I kept having to stop to prick my fingers. Trying to get going again, especially on a long run, was just unbearable. I was breastfeeding as well. That affects your sugars anyway, never mind running ten hours in between.

For the longer runs, Dan was always with me. The shorter ones I could manage quite happily on my own. I’d always tell people my route, so they could get me on the phone. My blood sugar control when I was training for the marathon was probably the best it had ever been, I think because I was so fit and healthy. My nutrition was really good, I was checking my blood sugars so much. It was definitely a ‘me’ time. 

On the morning of the marathon, I thought, ‘what have I done?’ I think 15 miles was my longest training run. I thought, ‘how am I going to get past that limit?’ I’m really strong minded. I thought, if I have to walk, so be it. 

Read Shannon's complete story
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Heidi QuineDiagnosed at the age of 12 in 2001

Tips for indoor cycling

I have always used an indoor bike to help with my cycling training. It helps me test my power and has supported getting me stronger cycling outside. I now instruct indoor cycling which I love.

  • Have plenty of water on hand to drink – as you always lose twice as much sweat riding inside.
  • Electrolytes are a must! They help restore lost sodium, minerals and salts the body loses when sweating / exercising. They can be found in any exercise drink (such as Lucozade) or sugar free options such as High 5 tablets which dissolve into your water.
  • Buy some cycling shoes – you can cycle with better technique and more power than normal trainers.
  • Get some padded shorts – there’s nothing worse than sore glutes if you’re cycling.
  • Get a good bike fit - making sure your seat and handlebars are in a suitable position to reduce injury and gain comfort.
  • Always remember a towel for the bike, along with a mat for under your bike (there is nothing worse than dripping loads of sweat when you are cycling).
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Read Heidi Quine's complete story

Leighanne Smith2009

Swimming the width of the English Channel in 3 months

It was a Saturday afternoon on 21 December 2019. I was aimlessly scrolling through my Instagram account, waiting for my fiancé to return from work when a sponsored Swim22 post appeared. Given it was in support of Diabetes UK, it captured my attention. I clicked the sponsored post to find out more.

Having struggled to stay committed to a form of exercise for the previous 12 months, I figured this could be something new to try. I have had personal trainers, I have trained weights, played tennis, kickboxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu and attended group training sessions.

Using any excuse I could find, I struggled to stay committed long term. Although I was taught to swim in primary school, it’s not something I have pursued since then, unless absolutely necessary. The most activity I would do in a pool is to climb on to a lilo, usually with a drink in hand, relaxing somewhere hot.

I was interested in taking part in Swim22 as it was the perfect opportunity for me to give something back. A decade on from diagnosis I found myself still taking all the support I could get from Diabetes UK, never talking openly about my condition to help or inspire others. I continued to hide my diabetes and never taking the opportunity to give something back.

The New Year was on the horizon, I had just faced the most challenging six months of my business life and was feeling under pressure, stressed and lacking self-worth. Unsure about what happens next I found myself in a mental space I was not familiar with. I researched the benefits of swimming on my physical and mental health and decided to take the plunge.

Read Leighanne Smith's complete story
Jon-type1

Jon PeachDiagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged five

Work and diabetes

I always wanted to do a job that involved sport, whether that was coaching or teaching. I would’ve been so bored in an office. I did a sports degree at university and teacher training after that. 

For quite a while, I didn’t want to tell anyone I had diabetes. I was worried they’d treat me differently. But wearing a sensor on my arm means that my students often ask what it is. These days I’m much more open about my diabetes, so I’m always happy to have a conversation with them about my condition and what it means. What’s nice about my job is that students can see I still lead a normal life and you can still be active if you have type 1. 

My students are great. I’m on an insulin pump and one day when I was teaching a Year 11 girls’ rugby team, I got knocked over whilst holding a tackle shield. They were really concerned about me. One girl even checked if my pump was OK. I’ve once had trouble in a lesson because I’ve gone hypo and a student needed to get me something from the vending machine. I’ve had times when I’ve gone low and my blood sugar hasn’t come back up as quickly as I would have hoped. When that happens I’ll sit on a bench on the side and say to the children, “Right, could you do this for the next five minutes,” while I recover or just ensure they are in a game situation where I can oversee while a student referees or umpires. 

Keeping on top of blood sugar levels

Managing diabetes when you have an active job isn’t easy, but it’s a case of thinking about everything you might need to help you get through the day and having back up plans. These days, I make sure I’ve got plenty of hypo treatments on me and I try to do lots of testing and scanning, so I’m on top of my blood sugars. It’s also helpful for recognising that there are times when I need to change my basal rate, or put a temporary one in place.

The hardest thing is the surprise of your blood sugars not doing what you expect, I’m always looking for a reason. That can be helpful, but it can also be frustrating. That must be the teacher in me, trying to evaluate where it’s gone wrong, so I can work out how to avoid it next time. That’s part of the problems that come with diabetes, and it’s important not to let it hold you back. I try to remind myself that even people with the best control will have rubbish days. Just because something has worked one day, doesn’t mean it will work the next.

Read Jon Peach's complete story
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Ruth HydeCycles and supports Diabetes UK in memory of her brother Eddie

Cycling

I learnt to ride when I was very young and used to ride to school – which actually put me off cycling for a long time – riding in full school uniform (including school skirt and hat) with a massive bag of books was not a pleasurable experience.

I only took up cycling again about 5 years ago when my doctor suggested it following knee surgery as it’s easy on the joints. I was quite active before I took up cycling, but it really helped me to get fitness back and some strength back in my muscles. 

I used to row a lot which wasn't a problem for my joints, but didn't help strengthen my knee muscles or improve mobility  whereas the cycling has done. I did try running (which to be fair i didn't actually enjoy very much) and that was a disaster for my knee because of the pounding.

My surgeon was pretty clear that cycling was a good thing to do to help me knee and so far I'd agree with him

I couldn't believe it when I managed 20 miles on my first ride with my local club. I had a big heavy bike and was by far and away the slowest in the group but I was well looked after and so delighted that I’d ridden that far. It was a beautiful evening.

And I was lucky enough to get a ballot place for RideLondon in 2018. Fundraising for Diabetes UK on the back of the ride felt like absolutely the right thing to do. I did it in memory of and to celebrate the life of Eddie and to aid diabetes research. I love a challenge. I’d like to think he'd have been proud to find me raising money for Diabetes UK – but I suspect be would be puzzled that I’d think a 100-mile bike ride was a good idea.

Cycling in memory of Eddie seemed very appropriate. I can actually remember helping him learn to ride his first bike (a family hand-me-down with fat white tyres and stabilisers), and cycling round the neighbourhood on adventures with a little gang of friends. As I recall the days were always sunny, roads were flat and pothole free, and punctures never happened. 

Cycling has been a bit of a saviour during lockdown. While I miss cycling with friends having the chance to get out and enjoy the fresh air has been such a positive experience. I am working from home, and actually working harder than ever as I’m involved in planning for the post lockdown future. It quite often feels harder to get away from the work at the end of the day when it’s sitting in the next room - so making a commitment to myself to go out cycling helps me separate work life and home. 

And my cycling experiences have been so different – the roads have been so much quieter with very few cars and you can actually get to see, hear and smell more when you are out so it is infinitely more pleasureable. The whole lockdown, and indeed the whole Covid experience has made me appreciate my cycling.

And I'm looking forward to the UK wide Cycle Ride and setting myself a target to see how far I can get in the month. I love the idea of people across the UK getting on their bike wherever they are to do something amazing for Diabetes UK.

Ruth's cycling tips - for indoor and outdoor cycling

  • Know your limitations – better to do a shorter distance and enjoy it than overdo it. You can build up distances over time.
  • Padded cycle shorts are a good investment for any sort of cycling.
  • Joining a cycling group can really help with motivation. I found that not only did I find new routes and places to cycle to, I also cycled further than I would have done on my own. The camaraderie is great and I’ve met lots of interesting people.
  • Above all enjoy yourself – and if you have a bad ride where everything feels like hard work don’t worry about it – it happens to everyone so don’t give up.

 

Read Ruth Hyde's complete story
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