Christel is a Los Angeles based blogger, certified personal trainer, and diabetes advocate. She has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1997 and at an early stage decided that it wasn’t going to slow her down. Her motto is “There is Nothing You Can’t do With Diabetes”. She writes about Health, Fitness and how to be Fit With Diabetes on TheFitBlog.com. She also trains people with diabetes from across the globe, online and in person, and supports them in meeting their health and fitness goals.
How to Live a Healthy Life with Type 1 Diabetes
Most of the people who approach me for diabetes coaching wants to know the secrets to living a healthy life with diabetes.
Many of their questions are about weight loss, blood sugar management when exercising, and healthy nutrition. There is so much conflicting information online on what we should and should not do to be healthy with type one diabetes that it’s no wonder there’s confusion on the subject!
I love sharing my experience and what works for me. I started my website, TheFitBlog.com, as a solution to what I perceived as an information void when it comes to exercise and health for people living with diabetes. TheFitBlog is a dedicated diabetes website written by people with diabetes for people with diabetes.
You’ll find an abundance of resources on TheFitBlog, but today I want to share my top tips for living a healthy life with #T1D.
1. Resistance training
While cardio can be great for stress management and strengthening the cardiovascular system, resistance training is literally your golden ticket to better diabetes health – both in terms of body composition and insulin sensitivity.
Think of your muscles as a lot of little “gas tanks” that can store glucose. Because glucose from your food is mainly absorbed by your muscle tissue, resistance training (which builds muscle mass) is particularly good at improving blood sugars after meals. You don’t have to build bodybuilder-sized muscles to achieve this effect or even the amount of muscle mass I have. Any improvement from where you are now will help.
Resistance training, combined with proper nutrition, has also been shown to be the most effective combination for changing body composition and reducing overall body fat.1
If you’re new to resistance training start with body-weight exercises or resistance bands before progressing to using weights.
2. Gain an understanding of nutrition and know what you eat
Being active is a great step toward a better health, but if you don’t eat according to your goals, you won’t get far. I often say that proper nutrition is 80% of the journey.
When it comes to proper nutrition for people living with type 1 diabetes, I don’t believe there is one approach that is the best for everyone. I always recommend eating a balanced diet, including low/medium glycemic carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats in amounts that support whatever your fitness and health goals are.
However, some foods will affect blood sugars more or less dramatically and I recommend that you spend some time learning how different food affects your blood sugar. Because even if you stick to low glycemic carbs, some might not work for you.
A great example is old-fashioned oats. They are generally considered a great carb source from a blood sugar perspective, but for some people, oats will make their blood sugar skyrocket. You have to learn what works for you through experimentation.
A good way of assessing if your current diet is right for your needs is to keep a food diary for a while. It can be very helpful in understanding your current diet and how they affect your mood, weight, and blood sugars. This includes measuring out portions and thereby (re)learning portion sizes and accurate carb counting.
3. Track and learn
Aside from tracking your nutrition and potentially making tweaks, I highly recommend spending some time tracking and analyzing how your body reacts to other key variables.
Tracking the key variables in your health journey (such as exercise, food, stress, and sleep) and their impact on your blood sugar is the only way you’ll start seeing trends and learn to be as proactive as possible when it comes to blood sugar management.
For, ultimately, you can’t adjust to what you don’t know or understand, and it’s impossible to look for trends and patterns without data.
What I’ve found, with myself and the many people with T1D I’ve worked with over the years, is that when we start understanding how our bodies react to certain types of exercise and different foods, it becomes easier to reduce the amount of out-of-range blood sugar. It takes time and effort but putting in that work up front sets you up with less blood sugar related frustrations in the future.
4. Do what you love
Although I just tried (hard) to convince you that resistance training is the way to go, that might not be the right thing for you. If you try it out (give it at least a month) and really don’t like it, do something else. For an exercise routine to be something you can adhere to, you must enjoy it at some level, or at least don’t hate it.
There are so many ways to exercise that you should be able to find something you like. If you prefer dancing, do that. Biking, running, swimming and walking are all great too.
I’ve also found that switching it up, for example, doing yoga one day and resistance training another can be really beneficial for body and mind. However, you’ll have to watch your blood sugar since different types of exercise will impact your blood sugar differently (read more about that here).
Getting your exercise regime and nutrition dialed in to fit your needs and goals is something that can and should take a little time. We can’t expect results overnight, especially since we have a few more variables to take into consideration that people who don’t have T1D do. But if you take your time and learn how your body reacts to exercise and your nutrition, you can start making small tweaks that will lead to better health and diabetes management in the long run.