Data can give you power. A huge part of managing your diabetes is to keep your blood sugar under control, exercise, and eat right. Trackers can give you an accurate feedback about how much, or how little, you are doing those things.
Why Tracking Helps With Diabetes
Ever get a high phone bill? Then you know how looking closely at the specific charges can help you change your behavior. The next month, you'll be more careful about how much data you use or the number of texts you send.
It's the same with tracking when you have diabetes. By getting an accurate view of your blood sugar along with how much you're exercising, eating, and sleeping -- not just what you want to believe is true -- you can make some real improvements.
Data = power.
Research shows that tracking -- and the awareness that comes with it -- really works. Studies have found that people with diabetes who used apps -- to record food, exercise, and other behavior -- had better long-term blood sugar control. Another found that people who wore pedometers naturally increased their activity by 27%.
By tracking steps and the calories you burn, fitness trackers can help anyone get fitter. But they have special benefits for people with diabetes. Here's why.
Exercise. Physical activity is essential to controlling diabetes. It helps lower your blood sugar, helps your body use insulin better, and makes you less likely to have other health complications.
A fitness tracker could be just what you need to jump-start your exercise routine. Walking is great for people with diabetes, and counting your steps with a fitness device is an easy way to stay on track.
Devices often track the number of calories you use throughout the day. Step up your daily calorie burn, and your blood sugar will benefit.
Sleep. Many trackers have motion sensors that track your ZZZs. That can help if you have diabetes, since they tell you about your sleep quality and duration:
Sleep problems and diabetes go hand-in-hand, like sleep apnea and nerve pain at night. If your device records many restless nights, talk to your doctor. Waking up a lot in the night can be a sign that your blood sugar is getting too low.
Not sleeping enough can push your blood sugar out of whack. So when you see how little sleep you're getting night after night, you might be inspired to turn off the TV an hour early and go to bed.
Food. Most fitness trackers have websites or apps to enter what you've eaten, or plan to eat, and then show you the calories.
They also balance the calories you burn with the ones you eat, so if you work out a lot, you can eat a tad more.
Many devices sync with diabetes-specific tracking apps for your carbs and insulin doses, so you can see all your data at once in easy-to-read graphs and charts.
Add Other Devices to Your Arsenal
A wireless scale. If you're overweight, losing some pounds helps lower your chances that diabetes will get much worse.
Think about trading your old bathroom scale for one that records data. Then, you can see trends in your weight over time.
Wireless scales can automatically upload your weight to a secure website.
If you're really into sharing, you can tweet your weigh-ins or post them on social media. This kind of support helps some people stay motivated.
A home blood pressure cuff. High blood pressure and diabetes is a common and dangerous combination. Keep a closer eye on yours at home.
Like scales, a wireless blood pressure monitor may automatically upload readings to a website so you can track them easily.
Glucose monitors and apps. Read up on the new wave of high-tech glucose monitors and phone apps.
Some gadgets can store your glucose monitor's readings in the cloud. That means you use less space on your phone or tablet.
Browse the app store for your phone or tablet's operating system to find hundreds of diabetes apps -- to record carbs, set alarms for medication, and plan healthy meals. Look for ones with the highest ratings and try them.
Check products from the same manufacturer -- like a fitness tracker, wireless scale, and glucose monitor -- to see if they sync so you get a more complete picture of your health.
The Big Picture
The high-tech revolution makes it easier to share info with your doctor. Now you can show them not only your glucose readings, but also your diet, exercise, and sleep.
Once you track for a while, you'll start to see some connections.
- Compare your glucose spikes with your food tracker. How much is that snack from the vending machine really affecting you?
- How does exercising a few weeks affect your blood pressure?
- When your tracker shows you slept restlessly for a week, does it affect your blood sugar readings?
Is there something you need to improve? Also congratulate yourself for what you're doing right.
When you self-track, you see the rewards of your healthy habits. That can give you very real reasons to stick with them.
American Diabetes Association: "Diabetes Apps."
American Heart Association: "Treating Diabetes with Diet & Exercise."
Consumer Reports: "Activity Trackers Cover More Than Just Footsteps."
Defeat Diabetes Foundation: "Better Sleep."
Marjorie Cypress, PhD, RN, president-elect of health care and education, American Diabetes Association, Albuquerque, NM.
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: "What I Need to Know about Physical Activity and Diabetes."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders: "What Can a Physically Active Lifestyle Do for Me?"
Obesity Action Coalition: "Self-Monitoring -- The Way to Successful Weight Management."
Grace DeSimone, national director of group fitness, Plus One Health Management Inc., New York City.
Tran, J. Clinical Diabetes, October 2012.
Jim White, health fitness specialist, American College of Sports Medicine; spokesman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; owner, Jim White's Fitness and Nutrition, Virginia Beach, VA.
Weight Watchers Research Department: "The Science Behind Self-Monitoring."