For Helen Hopkins, 42, it all started with discomfort. “I had tingling in my feet and hands, had gained weight and was generally lethargic,” she recalls. After seeing her doctor, she was shocked to learn that she was pre-diabetic. “I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t believe the diagnosis,” she says.
Hopkins is one of hundreds of millions of people living with diabetes or prediabetes. Diagnosis rates are rising globally, with most experts pointing to sedentary lifestyles, cheap and readily available food, and lack of time to exercise. In Hopkins’ case, his daily routines have indeed had an impact on his health. “I grew up thinking that the three Cs — cola, cake, and carbs — would help give you an energy boost,” she says. “So whenever I was tired or stressed, and I often was, I took sugar.”
Changing her diet was one hurdle, but finding time to exercise was another. Exercise plays a key role in diabetes management; it controls blood sugar by reducing insulin resistance, blood pressure and cholesterol. But between running her own business and caring for a young family, Hopkins had struggled to find the time to be active. The diagnosis of prediabetes, however, motivated her to find an enjoyable activity that she could maintain. Following her doctor’s advice, she started walking: first the school run, then extra steps until she started to feel the benefits.
“Soon, I traveled crazy distances,” she says. “I have found that my mental health has improved tremendously as well as my physical fitness. As an overthinker, walking gives me the space to just be me. She is now an ultra walker, completing 50k events and training for an ultra 100k. “I think being diagnosed with prediabetes was a gift. Becoming fitter and healthier has given me clarity,” she says. “I even started my own wellness business when I realized there were so many other people in similar situations that I could help.
For people with diabetes or prediabetes like Hopkins, establishing a fitness routine is easier when the chosen activities are enjoyable. They can include walking, running, bicycling, swimming, dancing, or even gardening. Vanessa Haydock, known as Diabetic Health Coach, is a Personal Trainer, Nutrition Consultant, Life Coaches and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). She has type 1 diabetes, an innate type of insulin-dependent diabetes, and she says exercise is key to diabetes management. “People look up to me as someone living with the same condition,” she says. “Together, we are finding ways to break down barriers to exercise and slowly develop a new mindset to take better care of ourselves, physically and mentally.”
Anyone with a diagnosis of prediabetes or type 2 should consult a doctor before starting a fitness program. it is important to know how to manage potential fluctuations in glucose levels. But once all is clear, fitness activities can help support health in different ways and at certain times of the day when exercise can be most beneficial. For example, exercising after a meal provides a much greater degree of blood sugar control and stability than resting. Resistance exercises — think bodyweight, resistance bands, and light free weights — as well as aerobic exercises are important. The heart is a muscle that needs to be worked, so moderate to vigorous activity for 30 minutes every other day is ideal.
No one is thrilled to learn they have prediabetes, but this diagnosis is no cause for despair. It may just turn out to be an opportunity to show yourself a little kindness and feel better than ever by integrating fitness and health into everyday life.