On the face of it, type 1 diabetes is a physical disease. Poor glucose control over the long term can result in various physical issues. What is often overlooked is the impact type 1 diabetes can have on mental health. We all know that exercise is important for physical fitness, but the impact of exercise on mental health can be profound. So how does fitness impact physical and mental health for type 1 diabetics?
Early anxiety and uncertainty
It was late in 2015 when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Having only noticed symptoms a week or so prior, it came as quite a shock. Despite the excellent care I received from my diabetic nurse, I felt a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty about what my future now looked like.
Type 1 diabetes is a part of life, not an inhibitor to living
I was eager to learn as much as I could about the disease and quickly immersed myself in online diabetic forums, blogs, and information sites. It soon became apparent that for so many, type 1 diabetes was not an inhibitor to living but just a part of life. I learned about athletes, entrepreneurs, movie stars and all kinds of real people across the world, not just living, but excelling in life.
Exercise can be a game changer for type 1 diabetics
From an early age I have been involved in sports and fitness to some extent. However, when I was diagnosed with type 1, the impact of fitness on managing the condition was eye opening. I noticed exercise was instrumental in helping manage blood glucose and improving insulin sensitivity. In other words, exercise made my body more responsive to insulin and more effective at utilizing carbohydrates. Fitness became a must and I was hooked.
How I workout today
Now I workout with weights 4-5 days a week and aim to get in half an hour to an hour of steady state cardio everyday, usually in the form of moderate paced walking. I like to split my cardio into two smaller 20-30 minute sessions each day. Short walks can aid digestion so timing a walk after a meal is great.
With regards to weight training, I like to focus my workouts around free weight and compound movements such as squats, bench press and deadlifts with a sprinkling of machines and isolation exercises thrown in for accessory work. Ultimately, the most important thing is that you are putting in the work. The workout split and exercise selection are secondary and largely depend on your personal goals and schedule.
High intensity training can increase blood sugar
It’s worth noting that, unlike most forms of exercise, high intensity resistance training such as heavy weightlifting can temporarily increase blood sugar levels due to stress hormones signaling the liver to release glucose. I will therefore adjust my insulin and eat accordingly beforehand in order to effectively counter the effects of the particular workout I am doing. I monitor my sugars levels with a FreeStyle Libre glucose monitoring system that tracks my levels on a continual basis and alerts me if my glucose drops low.
Exercise benefits mental health as well as physical
The value of exercise as a type 1 diabetic is not purely physical though – it has huge mental health benefits too. For me, working out is almost ritualistic, just like monitoring blood glucose and taking insulin are part of the routine. Goal setting in the gym is practice for goal setting in business and in life. It helps bring focus and structure to the day to better optimize output.
Productivity in the gym brings productivity outside of the gym
Although it may sound illogical, productivity in the gym has allowed me to have more energy and increase productivity outside of the gym. It also helps improve mood and lower stress, which in turn offers physical benefits. For me, fitness is a cycle of challenges and rewards for which I am grateful to be able to utilize as a T1.
Founder of Workout For Less
Ben Goulding is the founder of Workout For Less , a sports and fitness specialist retailer in the UK. Ben created Workout For Less with the belief that everyone should be able to reach their fitness goals. As a type 1 diabetic, he is passionate about sharing his experiences to help others