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Teeing Up for a Healthy Heart

by Christopher X. Shade

Diabetes on the course
I wear an insulin pump, and when I play golf, I also like to wear my continuous glucose monitor to help me stay on top of my glucose levels during the round: The monitor display shows arrows to indicate a rising or falling glucose level. I also set the continuous glucose monitor to alarm if my blood glucose drops to 90 mg/dl. This way, I can treat a low early, before it becomes an emergency.

When I was playing in Spokane, for example, I was on the fifth hole hitting from the trees when I heard the alarm. I ate three glucose tablets and continued to play. At the next hole, the others in my group teed off first while I took a fingerstick reading using my blood glucose meter. I found the reading to be normal, but according to the continuous monitor, the trend was a steady decline, so I ate a granola bar and then teed off (a very good drive!). By having my diabetes supplies with me — and using them promptly — I was able to continue playing without experiencing a low that would have affected my ability to play.

Had I needed to recover from low blood glucose before continuing to play, my foursome would not have hesitated to take 15 minutes or so out of the game at a tee box and allow the group behind us to play through.

When I’m exercising, I like to carry lightweight foods that have lower glycemic index values, so they’re digested more slowly. Energy bars that contain nuts and grains, are high in fiber, and contain about 20 grams of carbohydrate per bar are one of my favorites. (The widely available book The New Glucose Revolution Shopper’s Guide to GI Values can help you identify lower-glycemic-index snacks.) I steer away from energy bars with sweet coatings or with chocolate chips inside because they tend to melt on hot days and make a mess.

Even though I walk the course and try to keep my bag light, I always carry a full water bottle to avoid dehydration. I drink a lot of water during the game. I refill the bottle whenever possible, and I don’t worry about the weight that it adds to my bag.

Because I’m committed to exercising when I play golf, I walk quickly, and I sweat. In addition, my body twists when I swing. With all this movement, my pump infusion set or CGM sensor could fall out. So far, it has only happened once, when I felt my CGM sensor coming loose. I pulled off the sensor and transmitter and put them in my pocket for the remainder of the round. Because I had my meter, however, I could still keep tabs on my blood glucose level.

What goes into your bag will depend on how you control your diabetes, but at the very least, you should have a blood glucose meter and test strips, treatment for hypoglycemia (such as glucose tablets or raisins), a more substantial snack for when you get hungry or need more than your hypoglycemia treatment to raise your blood glucose, and a bottle of water. Having some cash with you on the course is also essential, in case you need to wave down the beer cart to buy more water or something more to treat hypoglycemia, such as a soft drink.

Sun protection
The sun is another hazard to navigate on the golf course. I’m particularly attuned to this because I am a skin cancer survivor, but everyone would do well to wear sunscreen, a hat, and often, sunglasses while playing golf. When I head out for a round, I smear on 30 SPF sunscreen, pull on UPF-rated clothing, and keep a hat on my head that protects my face, ears, and neck. I carry a small bottle of sunscreen in a pocket of my golf bag, and I reapply sunscreen when it makes sense (such as when I’m sweating a lot). It’s not uncommon for me to reapply twice during a round. I typically do this when I’m waiting at the tee.

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Also in this article:
Golfing With Disabilities
Injury Prevention Resources



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