A Therapist’s Perspective On Living With Diabetes

November is one of my favorite months of the year. It’s the month of Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), less than 5 weeks from Christmas, and 6 weeks from a new year. While this will be my 40th year of celebrating November, it will be my first year celebrating National Diabetes Awareness month as a new member of this not so coveted club.

I am now 1 of the 30+ million Americans living with this disease every day. Working in a clinical setting, I have the ability to see the effects of this disease from a different perspective and make the changes that are necessary to live in this new phase of life. I won’t pretend that the changes are easy, they aren’t, but they are certainly manageable. My new lifestyle requires the need for exercise, diet control, better sleep, blood sugar testing and medications. I now work with a medical team including my primary care physician, a certified diabetes educator (CDE), and my physical therapist.  Since my diagnosis, I have researched and read quite a bit and I’d like to share what I know so far:

Sleep: We must recognize that our bodies need to reset and repair the daily damage of life, and this occurs at night. To give ourselves the best chance at getting this right, we need to make sure we follow some simple habits. Personally  I had to relearn how to do this. I turned off the notifications on my phone, and now have completed a sleep study that shows I stopped breathing 19 times an hour. If you live with diabetes, this can be another factor that can affect the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

  • Try to be as routine as possible, by falling asleep at the same time and waking up the same time each day.
  • For better quality sleep, we need to decrease screen time and caffeine intake, prior to bedtime.
  • It can also help your sleep cycle to make sure we do not exercise too close to bedtime.

For much more information on the correlation between blood glucose and sleep, visit the Joslin Diabetes website: https://www.joslin.org/info/sleep_problems_and_diabetes.html .

Stress: We all experience stress, and while we can’t always change that, we can change how we respond to that stress. Stress comes in two forms, we can have positive stressors or negative stressors. Positive stress, like exercise, can be used to build up a muscle or muscle group. Negative stress could be something like running late or being stuck in traffic. For a person with diabetes, stress can elevate our blood glucose levels. I have seen my levels increase by 30 points when I am more stressed, regardless of activity, or diet. Additionally, a person with diabetes does not want their blood glucose levels to have peaks and valleys. A low, flat line is ideal. This is when I feel my best. It is also important to note that the fear of being diagnosed with diabetes can carry fear and anxiety, and some people even experience depression. The Cleveland Clinic is a good resource for managing those feelings and gives us some warning signs to watch out for! Here’s a link for more info: https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/mental-health.

Diet: One of the more difficult changes. For many, when they are newly diagnosed, the diet restrictions feel overwhelming. You may be thinking that all enjoyable, tasty foods are off the table and you are now stuck with this lackluster, mundane diet. That’s not true! There are plenty of wonderful, tasty foods that I get to enjoy. Last night, I had a wonderful dinner which consisted of a large salad, and a home-made cheesesteak sandwich, which was 28 carbs (l personally limit my meals to 30 carbs or less). It does become important to learn which foods affect your body most and how. I know that I can’t eat certain foods, such as processed white bread or rice. However, I can have a large number of vegetables that provide me with a wide array of tastes and textures!  Again, having a Certified Diabetes Educator can help you immensely in the early stages of finding out how to properly fuel your body. The American heart association has some great information here: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/diabetes/prevention–treatment-of-diabetes/the-diabetic-diet

Exercise: One of the biggest influencers on blood glucose levels is movement! Don’t just take my word for it, look here: https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/type-2-diabetes/type-2-diabetes-exercise). Along with the effects on blood glucose, movement, in general, can have positive effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall cardiovascular health. A diagnosis of diabetes increases your risk of each of these. There is significant research on exercise and the positive effect it has on mood, depression, and anxiety.

The research varies on intensity and type of exercise, but blood glucose can drop anywhere from 1-3 points per minute. Because of this, a physical therapist is a wonderful resource. A quality therapist can help start and improve both the quality of movement, along with providing an exercise program that is safe and effective for a person with diabetes. 

Our therapists at RPI offer personal training options, which include, customized exercise programs for people with a wide variety of fitness levels and diagnoses. We at RPI work hard to meet a person where they are in their journey and tailor a program to them.

With all of this said, a person diagnosed with diabetes has ample opportunities and the ability to live a healthy and happy life. It is absolutely a lifestyle change and there is a need for continued education and personal growth. I would recommend for anyone that wants to learn more about diabetes and successful ways of living with it, visit this website: https://diatribe.org.

I am happy to share personal victories, as well as the trials and errors of this new diagnosis. Please reach out for help. Navigating this alone can be overwhelming, but you are not alone!

Course Login