Diabetes Self-Management Articles

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Accessible Exercise and Recreation

by Andrew Leibs

An accessible event where one can walk, jog, or run is the Vision 5K, which takes place each June in Boston and is the national 5K road race championship for runners who are blind or visually impaired. It is one of two races for runners with visual impairment that award prize money to the top male and female finishers (the other is the Stampede for VIPS in Louisville, Kentucky). The race also features the Blindfold Challenge, in which anyone can be an entrant (many corporate CEOs participate) by donning a blindfold to experience running a 5K with a sighted guide.

Depending on what you’re doing, gardening can provide aerobic activity, strength training, and flexibility training. It can also fulfill the need to be outdoors, breathing fresh air in the sunlight. And like yoga, it promotes the focus of breath and energy on a task and promotes relaxation that can lower blood pressure.

“Gardening’s great for your body and for your brain,” says Haidee Merritt, an artist and gardener with Type 1 diabetes who lives in Kittery, Maine. “Getting your hands dirty and working in the earth is very soothing.” For Merritt, the physical activity of gardening makes managing her diabetes easier. “My metabolism changes dramatically when I’m working. My insulin requirements drop considerably,” says Merritt. “I can reduce my long-acting insulin, and I need a lot less of the quick.”

Because heavy tasks, such as raking or turning soil — or even lighter tasks, such as weeding, when performed for an extended period — burn energy and can lower blood glucose level, it’s important to check your blood glucose before, during, and after gardening the same way you would for any sustained physical activity.

Fun on the water
Water can be an “equalizer” that is forgiving to people with many types of disabilities—not just in the pool, but also outdoors in sports such as surfing and waterskiing. The Leaps of Faith Disabled Waterskiers Club in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, teaches recreational and competitive waterskiing to adults and children with visual or physical disabilities for free each summer, providing all necessary equipment and adaptive devices. People who are physically disabled can use sit-skis, which are often equipped with outriggers for stability, while participants with visual impairments can ski next to guides who provide verbal instructions; whistles and tugs on the towline facilitate further communication between skier and boat.

A similar program is AccesSurf Hawaii’s monthly “Day at the Beach” at White Plains Beach in Kalaeloa. At this event, special wheelchair mats are placed across the sand, and adaptive beach chairs are set up, to help people with mental or physical challenges access the ocean to learn adaptive surfing and floatation swimming. Adaptive surfboards provide support, balance, and control with features such as backrests, contoured knee pads, and a more stable design for surfing in a sitting or lying position.

Finding motivation
The motivation to exercise has different origins for different people. For many people, being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes or developing another health problem provides strong motivation. But the feeling of being motivated rarely lasts very long. That’s why you need a plan to make regular physical activity a part of your life and to stick with it when you’re feeling less motivated.

According to Jill Garner, a nurse and Certified Diabetes Educator at the Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology at Portsmouth Regional Hospital in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, it can help to first think through what’s preventing you from being active. Then you can develop strategies to overcome these barriers. Your diabetes care team can probably offer suggestions for overcoming barriers if you’re not coming up with solutions on your own.

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