Living well with type 2 diabetes
I wrote this blog for an NHS England initiative; #DiabetesLDN
Google “living well with Diabetes”, and amongst the more than three million results you will find no end of advice. Lots of what is shown is good advice, but almost all of it is of the “you must do this” and “you should not do that” type. Very little of it is practical, and most of it focuses on how to reduce the risk of developing complications; however well-intentioned this is, many people living with Type 2 Diabetes will find it off-putting to be reminded about these risks, and I think many would be more interested in hearing something more pragmatic. With this in mind, here are my top three practical tips for living well with Type 2 Diabetes;
(1) Learn about self-management
The time that those with Type 2 Diabetes spend with healthcare professionals represents just a fraction of 1% of the total experience of living with the condition. For the rest of our time we are very much on our own, so knowing that we need to be in charge of our care, and not reliant on others to direct it, is an important step. This covers everything we do; from the choices we make about diet, exercise and medication each day, to big decisions about the direction of our treatment and our lifestyles.
The first steps in this direction are to become better informed about your condition; If structured if it is available to you, I would strongly recommend it. For people with Type 2 Diabetes this will often be in the form of courses such as DESMOND or X-PERT which give advice about taking control of your diabetes, and Diabetes UK also hosts excellent Living with Diabetes Daysaround the UK where you can learn about the care you should get from the NHS, and take part in workshops on things like diet, exercise and medication. If these are not available to you, or you would like to refresh what you have learnt already from one, an online education course offered for free by Diabetes UK called Type 2 Diabetes and Me is for you.
(2) Peer support — Welcome to the club no one wants to be a member of!
No one wants to have Diabetes, but the benefit of meeting other people with the condition has been an unexpected and pleasurable surprise to me. In the three years since my diagnosis I have been lucky enough to meet a lot of other people living with all types of Diabetes. Many of these I have come to know through social media, some through Internet fora, and a good number in person. What connects them all is the advice, information, support and inspiration they have given me. It is easy for the challenges posed by living with Diabetes to seem insurmountable some days, and sharing day to day experiences with others always seems to make it seem a bit easier.
(3) Integrating lifestyle changes
Like so many people, I’m an expert at finding good excuses not to go to the gym; indeed the gym industry has become a rich one based on those of us who eagerly join a gym but don’t stick to their resolution to get fitter. For me, one of the keys to changing my lifestyle to a more active one has been to stop trying to add a visit to the gym at the end of a long working day, but looking to integrate exercise into my everyday life. Doing this will be different for everyone, but the starting point for me was making exercise part of my trip to work; some mornings it’s just getting off one station before my usual stop and walking a little further. Other mornings I run all the way to the office. I try not to consider one more “successful” than the other, but to think of them both as being positive.
My job is one that involves a lot of desk work, so I look to get up and move at least every hour, even if it is just walking down a couple of floors to get a cup of tea. If I can’t get away from my desk to stretch my legs, than I will stand up for 10 to 15 minutes, perhaps whilst on the phone.
I hope that these three ideas will resonate with others; the challenges of living with the condition may never go away, but with a positive approach to self-management, the support of your peers and making your lifestyle a more active one, I have no doubt that all of us living with Type 2 Diabetes can live well.