Sheri Colberg was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age four and as a child discovered how much better regular exercise made her feel.
“Think of exercise as an extra dose of insulin,” she said. “It’s an alternate way to lower blood sugar naturally.”
Her own experience with diabetes led her to — no, not become a professional athlete — become an exercise physiologist and author of several books on diabetes and fitness. A few of the titles written by Dr. Sheri Colberg include “The Diabetic Athlete,” “Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook” and “The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan.”
Chronic diabetes conditions include type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, and both refer to a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood glucose (commonly called blood sugar), according to The Mayo Clinic. “Glucose is vital to your health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It’s your brain’s main source of fuel,” the Mayo Clinic staff writes on their website. “If you have diabetes, no matter what type, it means you have too much glucose in your blood, although the reasons may differ. Too much glucose can lead to serious health problems.”
Although there are many famous athletes past and present — tennis great Arthur Ashe, for one — who live with diabetes and push themselves physically, the average person with diabetes can literally take small steps toward being fit.
“Anything under 6,000 steps a day is considered sedentary,” said Dr. Colberg. “Just add a few hundred steps here and there. The easiest thing is to fit it into what you are already doing.”
She suggests that the person with diabetes, or their in-home caregiver, maybe leave things across the room so that you have to walk to get your book or glass of water. Another tip is to park the car farther away from your destination to add a few extra steps. This can all be created through an elder care services plan.
“If people are starting from being couch potatoes, they shouldn’t do anything too fast or too hard,” she said. “If you start out too intensely you risk injury and pain and that is very demotivating.” Dr. Colberg added that there can also be cardiovascular concerns so people should talk to their doctors about what feels right for their own exercise regimen. “Start slowly and progress slowly, and back off if you need to figure out how to proceed,” she said.
The Mayo Clinic recommends regular exercise such as a daily 30-minute brisk walk. “A recent study found that a combination of exercises — aerobic exercises, such as walking or dancing, most days, combined with resistance training, such as weight lifting or yoga twice a week — helps control blood sugar more effectively than either type of exercise alone,” writes the Mayo Clinic staff.
Dr. Colberg describes building muscle as creating a “glucose sink” and said, “If you don’t have that, then there is limited storage capacity.”
And many of these activities can be encouraged and done with a partner, friend, loved one, and caregiver—Tai Chi classes, taking walks, dancing, playing tennis and much more.
Because people with diabetes sometimes lose feeling in their feet, Dr. Colberg said it is imperative that they have good shoes that fit well and moisture-wicking socks to prevent any type of infection. “There should be a visual inspection of their feet daily to check for any blisters,” she said, noting it could be done by an in home caregiver or the individual themselves.
Getting circulation can possibly prevent lower limb amputations, which are not uncommon in people with diabetes. Dr. Colberg said that as a child the only person she knew with diabetes was her grandmother, who was overweight and in the last six years of her life had a heart attack, several strokes and lower limb amputation. “I realized that I don’t want that lack of quality of life,” she said. “That was part of my impetus for my profession was to help people figure how to have quality of life, not just longevity, and to be active and feel good."