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Type 1 Diabetes and Exercise

December 1, 2020

This month’s blog is a personal one.

Last month on November 5th, my 13-year-old son Ryan was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (T1D). To say it was a shock is an understatement, the realisation that his life had changed forever was tough for us as parents and even tougher for him.

The week following his diagnosis was probably the biggest learning curve of my life. I admit that I was uneducated with regards to type 1 diabetes. Like most people in the fitness industry, I am fully aware of type 2 but never took the time to fully understand the causes and implications of type 1.

To summarise, type 1 diabetes is when your immune system mistakenly decides to attack your pancreas and kill all the insulin-producing cells. It can happen to anyone, anytime, at any age and there is no medical reason to explain why it happens.

During Ryan’s stay in the hospital, I found out that exercise plays a vital role in the treatment of T1D. Exercise makes it easier to manage and control blood sugar levels and increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin. This means that after exercising your body does not require as much insulin to process carbohydrates.

Type 1 Diabetes and Exercise

Medical research has shown that children with T1D who exercise or play sport on a regular basis can avoid long-term health complications like heart disease, increased blood pressure, and cholesterol. Along with helping many of the short-term health issues that diabetes brings.

Through exercise adults with T1D benefit from the reduced eye, nerve, and kidney damage, as well as helping maintain a healthy weight. Being an active adult increases your good cholesterol (HDL) and decreases unhealthy fats (triglycerides) in your bloodstream. This combination means you are less likely to see fat build up in your arteries, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Alongside the physical benefits that exercise brings to T1D sufferers, there are also mental benefits as well. For people living with diabetes, managing the condition 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can be a stressful and emotionally draining experience. According to a recent study out of Stanford University, people with T1D make an average of 180 diabetes-related decisions per day. This is on top of the usual day-to-day decisions that the average person makes. This added pressure and stress can take its toll and impact mental health. Exercise can help by reducing anxiety, stress, and depression and it promotes the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain, like endorphins and serotonin.

Exercise plays a huge role in ensuring that people living with type 1 diabetes enjoy the same physical and mental benefits as those without, helping to live a long and healthy life.

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