July 11-17 is National Diabetes Week. 1.2 million Australians are living with diabetes and it has one of the fastest rates of diagnosis in the world.
Diabetes is characterised by higher than normal blood sugar levels. This can be a result of genetics, lifestyle changes, or can be diagnosed during pregnancy (gestational diabetes). Regardless of how an individual acquires their diabetes diagnosis, there is no question that this disease comes with a significant stigma attached to it.
The theme for National Diabetes Week 2021 is ‘Heads Up’ – a campaign which brings attention to the mental and emotional burden associated with living with diabetes. People diagnosed with diabetes sometimes have to make up to 180 diabetes-related health diseases each day. This can include remembering to administer medication, remembering to eat, making sure to exercise while avoiding low blood sugar levels and managing severe complications such as amputations.
There are some confronting statistics with regard to diabetes-related mental and emotional stigmas. Nearly 80% of people with diabetes have reported experiencing stigmatised behaviour from others, 50% having experienced a mental health challenge in the last 12 months and more than 30% of people living with diabetes have experienced workplace discrimination based off having to alter their habits to accomodate for the disease.
There is an incorrect assumption that people choose to get diabetes – especially Type 2 Diabetes – and as a result they feel judged, blamed and/or shamed for having the condition. This can have a significant toll on an individual’s mental health.
How Can You Help?
Diabetes affects over 1 million Aussies, meaning we all know someone who has some form of diabetes diagnosis. What are some things you can do to help?
Learn about diabetes. This includes the different types of diabetes, different medications, what happens during hyper- and hypoglycaemic episodes and how to respond appropriately if you are with someone and they have an episode
Act with empathy and respect. Living with diabetes is physically and mentally exhausting – provide support and flexibility to the people around you who may have diabetes
Call out stigma. Help to educate others and make it clear that you are supportive of your friends and family who are living with diabetes.
Exercise and Diabetes
Exercise is very safe and effective for blood sugar control. The best way to understand how our muscles use the sugar in the blood during exercise is to use the ‘sponge in soapy bath water’ analogy.
When the sponge is squeezed, it absorbs the soapy water.
- Sponge = muscle
- Soap suds = blood sugar
- Water = blood
Using this analogy, it is clear how exercising muscles use excess blood sugar for energy. Immediately after exercise, blood sugar levels can drop significantly, and over extended periods of time there is a more stable decrease in overall blood sugar levels.
Some things to consider during exercise with diabetes:
- Monitor blood sugar levels before and after the session to avoid a hypoglycaemic episode
- Have a snack on hand like a muesli bar and some fruit
- Incorporate resistance exercise involving large muscle groups into your workout