My experience of exercise and type 1 Diabetes
My name is Joe Togher and I have been living with type 1 Diabetes since I was 16 months old. From a young age, I have always been involved in some sort of sport and exercise. As a child, my parents and my Diabetic nurse always had good management of my Diabetes, but when I became a teenager and the responsibility of managing my blood levels fell on me, this good management and attention began to slip. I stopped testing my bloods as regularly as I should have, started eating what I wanted but was still trying to exercise at the same level. At the time, I didn’t realise how important checking my bloods before exercise was. It is recommended that you don’t start exercise with blood levels too low because you run the risk of getting a “Hypo”; which is when your blood levels go too low and alters your level of consciousness. Recovering from this can result in headache, low energy levels and feeling sick. On the flip side, you don’t want your blood levels too high before exercise. It is a known fact that exercise reduces blood levels in a Diabetic, but if your blood levels are too high it can have the opposite effect and will continue to increase the levels throughout the day. For me, “Hyper” presents severe dehydration and headaches. The longer the blood levels stay high, the more complications it can bring on, such as problems with eyes, feet, kidneys, heart and stroke.
It’s only in the last few years I have started to watch my blood levels and how it responds to exercise. I started working for The Movement in 2015. This brought more activity to my life. Teaching gym classes was a new form of activity for me and I found my blood levels getting lower as my body responded to the increased activity. This lasted a few months as I got fitter and my body became used of the exercise. I experienced a similar response when I started cycling with the local cycling club.
It was in 2017 I got a wakeup call. My long-term blood levels were the highest they had ever been. With this I really had to change my habits and start watching my blood levels. Around this time I started cycling. Cycling really had an immediate positive reaction on my blood levels. Regular intensive cycles helped to maintain healthy blood levels. This does not come without a warning, as if you’re not monitoring your blood levels, the sport can put you at risk. I remember coming back from a long cycle one day and my blood levels were lower than I expected even though I was at a good level before I started. This really showed the importance of always having food with you so you can counteract the “hypo”. I also became aware of something my nurses call a “false reading”. This comes into effect after a long exercise period where you need to give yourself up to one hour before you test your blood. Your blood levels may initially read high but the effect of the exercise is still working, so when you check your blood levels one hour later they should be back to normal. The key in this situation is not to correct your insulin levels until you see your true level.
Cycling has been a huge part in getting my blood levels right for me. It has taught me that consistency is not just key for improving my performance in sport but also with my Diabetes. Which brings me to another point that I learnt recently. Exercise can affect your blood levels from 2 to 72 hours after, depending on the intensity of the exercise. This explained a lot, as there were a number of days after intense cycles that I struggled to keep my blood levels at a healthy level and away from a Hypo.
Diabetes is a balancing act; you are never going to have it right every time. It’s like doing exercise - some days you are really up for it, ready to give it everything you have got and other days you just don’t have the drive. There was a saying I heard before “Diabetics don’t normally have two good days in a row”. This can be true, but you can’t let it bother you too much, you just have to go at it again the following day and improve on it.
From my time working in The Movement I have noticed that all great fitness results come from consistency. From a life time living with Type 1 Diabetes I can also say consistency with your diet and exercise is a key to maintaining good blood levels.