Top 3 Tips for Taking on New Activities with Diabetes

Posted by sean on Thu, 09/20/2012 - 18:06 in

My Alaskan adventure has prompted me to try and re-try many new activities. Just in a week’s time, I’ve been road biking, slacklining (sort of like tight-rope walking on a seat belt) and rock climbing, in addition to finding some last bits of snow for snowboarding up in the Yukon. When taking on any new activity with diabetes, whether big or small, there are a few things I make sure to do before to prepare myself.


1.  Set goals.

For me, goal setting is an important part of taking on a new activity, both for diabetes-related reasons and simply for tackling something new. For example, you might be surprised to discover I am seriously afraid of heights! When I’m on a snowboard I feel comfortable; but when I’m rock climbing and depending on a rope, carabineers, my climbing partner and a rock face, the act of looking down can cause me to lose focus and question whether I can even try to do it.

If I set myself a goal (e.g. make it half-way up the rock face), I’m more inclined to have confidence in my ability, because I know I’ve set a realistic goal for myself and I know how high I set the bar. I also find this keeps my nerves at bay and thus keeps my blood sugars in better control, because I have less adrenaline pumping through my body. Which leads into tip number two…

2.  Know your numbers.

Even keeping my nerves under control doesn’t necessarily keep my blood sugars down. If I slip on a rock while climbing and fall back, allowing the rope to catch me, I’m prone to spiking high from the surprise. And no matter how our bodies react (yours may react differently than mine), it’s important to check your blood sugar frequently.

Know your numbers before you start, know them mid-activity if applicable, and know them immediately afterward and throughout the day and evening. I used this strategy after I was first diagnosed at age 19. I would go to the gym and try all sorts of activities to see how my blood sugars reacted, especially activities I wouldn’t normally do, like swimming.

As you probably know, each activity takes its own toll on the body and thus causes it to react differently with diabetes. Once you get the hang of recording your blood sugars during the new activity and you practice again and again, you’ll feel more comfortable with your diabetes and will be able to read your body’s signals better.

3.  Never make assumptions.

Even with snowboarding—something I do year-round—there are still those surprise days. There are the days when we can do everything right and yet diabetes decides to get in the way. Am I right? Anticipate those surprises and head out prepared for whatever you’re tackling. Bring extra supplies, have snacks on hand and fill your companions in on your diabetes should they need to assist you.

Diabetes isn’t something I’m embarrassed of—it’s something I embrace. I feel it’s my duty to inform any teammates/travel companions of how my body works so that they can fully depend on me, just as I know I can depend on them.