Staying healthy with type 1 diabetes means sticking to a routine of smart habits, says Shannon Knapp, RN, CDE, manager of diabetes education at Cleveland Clinic.
Knapp, who was diagnosed with the disease at age 13, offers these tips.
Move more, but be patient. Physical activity can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol and can prevent weight gain, so it's key for your overall health.
But Knapp advises people with type 1 to approach it with patience. "Because they're on insulin, type 1s always have the potential for low blood sugar," she says. "Most people need medication adjustments any time they change their exercise level, intensity, or duration, and it can take some trial and error to figure out the best adjustments."
Seek support. People with type 1 make up just 5% to 10% of the diabetes population, which can feel isolating. Knapp recommends you join a support group or find other ways to connect with people with the same disease.
At Cleveland Clinic, she often helps with a "shared medical appointment," in which people with type 1 diabetes attend medical checkups together and share support and ideas. That camaraderie can keep them upbeat and on track with healthy habits.
See a certified diabetes educator (CDE) at least once a year, even if you've had the condition for 30 years.
"Technology, treatment methods, and medications all change over time," Knapp says. A diabetes educator can keep you up to date, answer any questions, and review your current treatment plan.
Questions you might ask a CDE:
- Are there any particular types of exercise that I should try?
- If I have trouble balancing my blood sugar after exercise, what should I do?
- Can you recommend any nearby support groups for people with type 1 diabetes?
- Which apps and web sites do you like for people with my condition?
- What target zone do you recommend for my blood sugar and A1c?
Try tech tools. Consider using web sites and apps to stay on top of your disease. Knapp watches the Diabetes Daily page on Facebook for news about new medications and other developments. To track carbs, she suggests the CalorieKing and MyFitnessPal apps.
Aim to educate. Most people with type 1 diabetes encounter "experts" who share unwelcome advice on managing the disease, often based on outdated information -- like that aunt who freaks whenever you eat a cookie.
"The most important thing you can do is educate the people around you," Knapp says.
Banish the word "bad." Many people with type 1 were diagnosed as children, and this colored their thinking about less-than-perfect blood sugar levels.
"As a kid, you might interpret a high blood sugar as 'I ate something I shouldn't have. I was bad,'" Knapp explains. "They can feel like a failure, which can linger into adult life."
Ditch the good/bad labels. "Your blood sugars are either in your target, or out of it," she says. "Out of your target is just a sign that you need to figure it out and make some changes."