5 Things I’ve Learned about Exercising with Diabetes

It’s November 26th which means it’s day 26 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt is about diabetes and exercise. There’s so much I could say on the subject, so I decided to settle for a bit of a round-up post that explains what I’ve learned about exercising with diabetes over the years…

I exercise on a daily basis.

This statement is not a faux-humble brag, nor is it an exaggeration. Unless I’m sick, I work out in some form or fashion every single day. My workouts will vary in their intensity, but one thing is consistent: My diabetes plays a major role in how long, when, and what type of exercise I choose to do.

Since I grew up playing sports, I’ve had just about my entire lifetime with diabetes to figure out how to make it peacefully coexist – or, at least, merely coexist – with whatever exercise routine I’m completing. As a result, I’ve learned quite a few lessons along the way, and I’ve come to recognize several patterns that my diabetes follows when I exercise:

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My diabetes is practically BFFs with exercise.

1. My diabetes is happiest if I work out first thing in the morning. I never thought I’d be the type of person who works out before eating breakfast, but trial and error has taught me that this is the way to go in order to better manage my blood sugars during a workout. Fasting exercise has worked wonders on my blood sugars: I never have to worry about dealing with an insulin-on-board-inducing low blood sugar, nor do I have to be concerned about what the food I ate prior to my workout will do to my blood sugars while I’m exercising.

2. Different types of exercise affect me (and my blood sugars) in different ways. Many people probably relate to me when I say that weightlifting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) often yield stable blood sugars during workouts but then trigger the need for more insulin hours later, whereas cardio (such as dancing, running, or circuit training) usually causes sudden drops in blood sugar levels. Of course, it depends on the timing, duration, and intensity of the workout, but it’s interesting to see how different types will require me to react in different ways in terms of my diabetes care.

3. Sometimes I need to suspend my insulin, sometimes I don’t. Again, whether or not I suspend my insulin – or even run a temp basal – depends heavily on when and how I exercise. If I’m doing my morning routine (which happens 75% of the time), then I don’t really do anything with my basal rates: I just keep them running normally. But if I’m taking a midday walk or decide to exercise in the evening, I often have to do something about my basal rate to avoid crashes or spikes. Insulin suspensions or temp basals are wait-and-see situations in those cases.

4. The hardest part about exercise and diabetes is that I can do the exact same routine every day and get different results. If I worked out at precisely the same time, for the same amount of time, and with the same sequence of movements every single day, then…my diabetes wouldn’t give a damn. Every day of life with diabetes is different because of the variables that inevitably cross my path. Things like mood, that time o’ the month, stress, diet, illness, and more can cause major changes in my blood sugar levels. It’s my job to react accordingly to those changes, but that doesn’t mean I always hit the mark on the first try. So with that in mind, it can sometimes be hard to accurately predict how my blood sugar will fare after every single exercise routine. Just thinking about it can be more exhausting than the workout itself.

5. My diabetes is my biggest motivator/fuels my desire to exercise. At the end of the day, I work out because of my diabetes, not because I’m trying to sculpt washboard abs (though I wouldn’t complain if that actually happened). My diabetes loves exercise: It results in an increase in insulin sensitivity and it helps tame my blood sugar levels overall. How could I not be motivated to work out every day with outcomes so tangible?

Yoga with Goats (and T1D)

It seems like a new fitness trend is “going viral” every week: between aerial silks, SoulCycle, and at-home fitness mirrors (in which a real trainer appears in your mirror and you get to watch yourself while they talk you through the workout – whoa FUTURISTIC right?), there is a plethora of ways to get physical that don’t involve standard, boring weights or treadmills.

I recently had the opportunity to try one of the most random, and possibly cutest, fitness craze…goat yoga. Yep. Yoga, but with goats.

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All downward dogs should be called downward goats when doing a goat yoga class.

It’s exactly what it sounds like. You move through a series of yoga poses, but there just happens to be adorable baby goats roaming around the class. They aren’t shy about making their presence known, either. When they aren’t bleating or searching for goat treats under your yoga mat, they’re actually JUMPING ON TOP OF YOU. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a tabletop pose (see my photo, above), downward dog, child’s pose…they’ll find a way to climb on you and turn you into their personal jungle gym.

It was a little disconcerting at first, and it was damn difficult to focus on flowing through yoga poses because you didn’t know if or when a goat would hop on your back or accidentally brush up against you with its horns.

And it was virtually IMPOSSIBLE when my blood sugar went low halfway through the class.

I knew that I was starting to feel off after I completed a short series of bird-dog crunches. I felt oddly exhausted after doing five on each side, so I went to go check my CGM data on my phone when I realized I didn’t have access to any, because I’d just inserted a new sensor that morning and the warm-up period wouldn’t be complete until the end of the goat yoga class.

Great timing on that one, Molly.

I decided to give it a few minutes before I took any corrective measures. So I just sat there, watching people struggle to get bendy with goats running amok. It was really pretty funny, but my sense of humor was shot, thanks to my low blood sugar.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the goat factor also prevented me from correcting my low right away, but…well, those things were germy. They’re farm animals, of course they will be messy and smelly. But they were literally peeing and pooping on our yoga mats, and precariously closely to our clothes/bodies. Forget feeling like I needed to sanitize my mat when the class was over – I felt like I needed to power wash MYSELF, at max intensity, just so I could feel totally clean again. So the prospect of checking my blood sugar in the middle of everything seemed absolutely unsanitary and virtually impossible.

But…like, I had to suck it up. After all, I didn’t want to do that thing that goats do, which is faint. Except they do it in a semi-cute way, and because they’re born with a condition that causes muscles to seize up when they’re startled. And there was no way I was about to faint due to a stinkin’ low blood sugar in front of a bunch of strangers and goats.

So I forced myself to navigate to the clean, protected patch of land that my backpack was perched on, dodging poop balls on the way over, and immediately grabbed my hand sanitizer so I could cleanse myself before reaching into my backpack and consuming a small box of yogurt-covered raisins. I still felt gross about it, but I did the right thing and took care of myself.

And I’m happy to report that by the end of the class, my blood sugar was on an upswing and not one goat had peed or pooed directly on me. Sweet success!

 

Hot Yoga: A New Win for my Diabetes

Normally, if you asked me if I would willingly go into a 105 degrees Fahrenheit room for 90 minutes for a workout, I’d say ohh HELL nawwww before you had the chance to finish asking your question.

I’m not someone who has a passion for exercising. I tolerate it. I try to do it daily for two very important reasons: 1) It keeps me in shape and 2) it helps me manage my blood sugars better. Otherwise, there’s very little about exercise that I actually enjoy. I’m not a fan of feeling out-of-breath for long periods of time. I have a love-hate relationship with the post-workout soreness that floods my body after a particularly intense session. And I definitely cannot stand sweating – on just about any given day, I’d rather be freezing cold and wearing layers of clothing than dripping in sweat.

All that said, though, I willingly participated in a fitness class called Bikram yoga…which is also known as hot yoga because you’re in a temperature-controlled room heated exactly to 105 degrees for the duration of the workout. For 90 minutes, you slowly move through 26 poses, and that’s that.

I wasn’t worried about the latter; it was the former that had me sweating (both literally and figuratively). I wondered whether I’d be able to tolerate the heat for a full hour and a half. I also had concerns about my diabetes devices – would I be sweating so much that they would fall off? Would they be able to stay safely in the room with me, or would the heat be too extreme for them? And how would my body and blood sugars respond to the hot yoga, anyways?

I knew the only way to get answers to my questions was to show up for class and find out for myself.

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Me, post-class, dripping in sweat in my car. Next time, I’m bringing a change of clothes.

And that’s exactly what I did. I went to a morning class with my stomach empty and my backpack full of diabetes supplies. My blood sugars tend to respond better to exercise when I don’t have any food in my system or insulin on board, so I made it a point to wait to eat my breakfast after yoga instead of before. But I still wasn’t entirely sure if or how my blood sugar might react to a brand new kind of workout, so I wanted to be armed with several different low snacks. I felt fairly confident about its stability, though, as I headed into the class sitting pretty at 110 mg/dL.

In addition to extra diabetes supplies, I also thought to bring with me some water that I’d filled and frozen the night before the class so I could stay hydrated throughout it with water that was sure to be extra refreshing in the heat.

Even though I had all this stuff with me, I chose to leave most of it in a cubby outside the studio, save for my CGM receiver, a tube of glucose tablets, and my water bottle. I didn’t want to take any chances with my cell phone, PDM, or glucometer and expose them to the heat – I have firsthand experience with an overheated cell phone, and while it does eventually cool back down its own, overheating my devices is not something I’d actively seek to do. I was taking a bit of a risk with the CGM receiver, but since I have the Dexcom app on my cell phone, it’s not like I’d be at a huge disadvantage if something were to happen to my receiver.

So with my gear in hand, I stepped foot into the yoga studio…and immediately started sweating. Yes, that quickly! It was a heavy, stifling, and moist heat – the exact kind that I hate the most. I started to question whether I had the endurance to even sit in this heat for 90 minutes, let alone move seamlessly through yoga poses in it. In the minutes before the class began, I sipped water slowly and told myself that above everything else, I needed to listen to my body throughout the class. I started to feel better as I reassured myself that it would be perfectly acceptable to walk out should I start to feel light-headed, low, queasy, or anything else abnormal.

Fortunately, though, an exit plan wasn’t needed as I made it through the full class! That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging or extremely sweaty – seriously, my body was so covered in sweat that it looked like I’d just come out of a swimming pool – but I proved to myself that I could do it. And the best part was that my blood sugar behaved beautifully: As a reminder, it was 110 mg/dL at 8:30 A.M. Class started at 9 and lasted until 10:30 A.M. I was home by 11 and when I checked my blood sugar there, I was at 118 mg/dL. I couldn’t have asked for better pre-, mid-, and post-workout blood sugar levels.

Was it scary to try this new, moderately intense exercise? Yes. Was I concerned about my diabetes before, during, and after the class? Yes. But was it all worth it? I’d say yes. I overcame my fears and was met by blood sugar success, making hot yoga a diabetes win in my book.

The Possible Pod Failure, or “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Judging by the title of this blog post, you might assume that I’m rewriting yet another Christmas song to make it about diabetes. Well, I’m here to tell you that is false – no more Christmas carol transformations for me! (At least, not until Christmas 2019.)

Rather, this post is all about an odd, kind of silly thing that happened to my mother and I when we were out on a walk with Clarence, my parents’ dog.

We both heard a high-pitched beeping coming from…somewhere.

We exchanged glances and my mom asked me if I heard that sound. I nodded, and we both sighed as we fished through our pockets for our PDMs. That’s because we both just knew that one of us was experiencing a pod failure, and that the pressing of a couple buttons would reveal who was about to become extremely annoyed.

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My walking buddies, moments after the false alarm.

But both of our PDMs indicated that our pods were working just fine. Bemused, she told me that sometimes her PDM won’t recognize the pod failure right away, and it will be the pod itself that emits the beep-of-dread. So I started lifting up layers of my heavy winter clothing to see if my pod was making the sound, while she briefly stopped walking to listen closer to her pod.

After our careful scrutiny, we determined that…

…the beeping sound was actually someone using a weed whacker or some other piece of lawn-care equipment in the distance. Oops.

We continued our walk, chuckling a bit about it while Clarence pranced along in between us. It was a relief to know that we wouldn’t have to scramble home so one of us could take out insulin and a fresh pod to apply as soon as possible.

What’s the point of sharing this little vignette? To show that diabetes is such a significant part of our lives, always one of our first thoughts, even in the most mundane cases. It also illustrates how volatile diabetes can be – just like that, a random beep can change the course of the day and determine your next series of actions.

Just some food for thought, all triggered by a (literally) false alarm.

 

Favorite Things Friday: My SPIBelt

One Friday per month, I’ll write about my favorite things that make life with diabetes a little easier for me.

For most people with diabetes, there’s no such thing as traveling light.

It doesn’t matter if we’re packing for a vacation or taking a brisk afternoon stroll – we’ve got to have a certain amount of supplies on hand in order to be prepared for any number of scenarios that could occur while we’re “away”.

As you can imagine, this can be pretty annoying, especially when it comes to simple matters like leaving the house for 20-30 minutes. It’s not like we can go out empty-handed. We need to stash our purses/backpacks/bags with the appropriate diabetes supplies, and it can get pretty bulky. I used to find it especially cumbersome if I was just trying to go for a walk in the neighborhood and had no choice but to carry a purse with me the entire way, which slowed me down and frustrated me.

Then I got my SPIBelt.

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My Dexcom SPIBelt

This miniature fanny pack changed everything for me! It looks small, but stretches to hold all of my essentials for when I head out on runs or longer walks. I can fit my cell phone, glucose tablets, and OmniPod PDM in the tiny pouch. There’s even enough room leftover for my dog’s treats and poo bags, leaving my arms and hands free to hold his leash when we go on walks together.

Other features of my SPIBelt include a slit in the pouch for earbuds, a secure clip in the back, and adjustable waistband so it can fit snug to the body, no matter how many layers of clothing I’m wearing. And unlike other armbands, pouches, and drawstring bags I’ve used in the past, my SPIBelt is actually comfortable. It stays in one place, so I’m not distracted by constant movement around my waist. I was definitely impressed by it the first time I took it on a run and didn’t have to keep on adjusting it as I moved. It’s much more discreet and doesn’t look quite as “old-school” as fanny packs or other similar bags.

This particular SPIBelt was given to me by Dexcom as a thank you for participating in their G6 ad campaign, but as I’ve come to find out, SPIBelts are widely available online and in stores.

Why I Decided to do a 3-Day Cleanse (and How it Impacted my Blood Sugars)

No carbs. No dairy. No meat. No processed foods. Strictly vegetables, fruits, and shakes for the next three days. 72 hours – I could do it, right?

Last week, I completed a 3-Day Cleanse. My goal was that it would help me feel a little bit refreshed after a couple weeks of nonstop gluttony. I figured it’d help reset my system and make me feel less bloated and tired. I didn’t want to do a typical “cleanse” though, the kind that forces you to stop eating any and all food and stick with juices. That’s why I did this particular program – I would be eating real foods on a regular basis throughout all three days. The bonus was that it would be foods I’m familiar with and are generally low carb, which could only mean good things for my blood sugar.

My routine for all three days would follow this format: Wake up, drink a glass of water, blend a shake together with one serving size of fruit. I’d have a cup of herbal tea one hour after breakfast, and one hour after that, I’d have a fiber-filled drink. Lunch would consist of another shake, one serving of vegetables, one serving of fruit, and one spoonful of hummus. I’d have an afternoon snack of baby carrots and one spoonful of almond butter with another cup of herbal tea an hour after consuming the snack. Dinner would be one last shake, one cup of vegetable broth, and a spinach salad with olive oil and lemon juice drizzled on top. I could have a final cup of herbal tea any time in the evening.

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I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did throughout the program, but those three days taught me a lot about how the things I put into my body impact not just my blood sugar, but my state of mind. Here’s what happened during my cleanse:

  • Day 1 – This day was by far the easiest to complete. Despite dialing back the amounts and types of foods I was consuming, I didn’t feel hungry at all – everything sated me. I was really enjoying watching my Dexcom CGM graph because it barely budged. I stayed right around 90-110 mg/dL for most of the day, probably because I was eating minimal carbs. Fewer carbs means less room for error, and this concept was definitely cemented into my mind by the end of the cleanse. I went to bed with a slight headache at the end of day 1, but a smile on my face. This would be a breeze!
  • Day 2 – My CGM sensor went kaput by mid-morning, and I was PISSED about it. I wanted the ability to continue tracking my blood sugars on this cleanse, and suddenly it was no longer available to me (because oh-so-conveniently, it was my last sensor in stock). Fuming over my CGM situation, I started feeling slight pangs of hunger shortly after having my fiber drink. I ate lunch as soon as I could after that, and spent much of the rest of the afternoon fighting a headache and dreading going home to see – not eat – my mom’s delicious home cooking. On the brighter side of things, my digestion seemed to be improving already and I felt a bit less bloated.
  • Day 3 – I went from “Oh, this cleanse will be a breeze!” to “OMG THESE ARE THE LONGEST THREE DAYS OF MY LIFE GIMME REAL FOOD AGAIN BEFORE I HAVE A MELTDOWN” in less than 48 hours. That’s gotta be a new record. I distracted myself as much as I could from my misery by burying myself in my work, which helped to a degree. But I couldn’t fight the lightheaded sensation that seemed to grip my entire body. I was confused by that – I though only eating real, plant-based foods would eliminate crummy feelings. Maybe I was experiencing a sort of withdrawal as my body got used to this new diet? I can’t confirm that, but I suspect that after a few more days, I likely would’ve felt much better…or hungrier. I’ll leave it to speculation because there is no way I’m doing this again any time soon. But MAN, am I proud of myself for completing the cleanse without cheating, not even once.

So if I felt THAT miserable toward the end of the cleanse, then why am I glad that I did it? Mainly, I’m astonished at how much easier it was to maintain my diabetes and “desirable” blood sugar levels in that three-day time period. Even without my CGM, I was still getting great results. It reinforced something that I already knew: that the body will react accordingly to the quantity and quality of foods that are used to nourish it. It made me realize that perhaps I should toy with cutting down my daily carb intake and upping my veggie/fruit/protein consumption to find out whether that positively impacts my blood sugar in the way that I think it will. This doesn’t mean I’m starting a low-carb or keto diet; rather, I’m simply going to follow a more thoughtful one.

To sum it up, this three-day cleanse/torture act/lesson (whatever you want to call it) helped make my understanding and appreciation of food much stronger, which makes it worth it in my book.

 

Bike Beyond, the Documentary: An Emotional Cinematic Experience

Last summer, a team of 20 international riders embarked on the journey of a lifetime. They spent 10 weeks cycling from New York City to San Francisco – east coast to west coast. As if this feat weren’t incredible enough, this team was comprised of individuals with type 1 diabetes.

This ride was risky enough, but throw diabetes into the mix, and it seemed impossible. Blood sugars would be a constant concern. Diabetes technology could fail. Careful watch of blood sugars could clash with the focus on cycling. Diabetes burnout could affect the riders physically and mentally.

But – spoiler alert – neither fear nor diabetes would prevent these riders from completing their arduous trip.

When Team Bike Beyond officially started their trek last summer, I remember following along as best as I could through various social media channels. I felt connected to the team: not just because of diabetes, but because I personally befriended a couple of the riders a few years ago at one of the College Diabetes Network’s Annual Student Retreats. I attended as a volunteer, and Jesse and Meagan were there as students. It’s funny how quickly friendships can form over the course of five days, but as anyone who’s gone to one of these retreats can tell you, there’s something about being immersed for a few days with a group of people who just get it. So it’s natural that we bonded over our mutually dysfunctional pancreases.

Anyways, as neat as it was to read those updates from Jesse, Meagan, and the team, there’s no way that words could capture what they were actually experiencing out on the road. I think that’s why watching the documentary was so emotionally captivating to me: Within the first few minutes, tears were rolling down my cheeks as the bikers explained the nervous energy they felt in the days leading up to the ride kickoff. In fact, my facial expressions changed so frequently throughout the film that I’m sure it was comical. One moment I’d be beaming, and in the next my jaw would drop open. I’d laugh when the riders were being goofy together on camera, and marvel with them as they took in stunning scenery across the country.

Overall, the documentary was incredibly well done. Victor Garber’s narration was fantastic – smooth and clear without taking attention away from what was happening onscreen – and the visuals were beautiful. I liked how footage from the riders’ GoPro cameras was incorporated so viewers could get an accurate representation of their perspectives from the bikes. It made me appreciate the physical intensity of the ride that much more, because diabetes aside, cycling such a long distance filled with rocky roads and steep inclines is extremely demanding on the body.

My recommendation? Check out the trailer. I included it above. I guarantee it’ll pique your interest and stir your emotions. You’ll want to watch the full documentary, which you can get here. After watching it, I think you’d agree with me that Team Bike Beyond crushed their goals of raising T1D awareness and eliminating stereotypes by completing this journey.