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Dr. Sheri Colberg-Ochs on Diabetes
Sheri Colberg-Ochs, Ph.D., is an exercise physiologist and professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University. She is the author of more than 150 articles on exercise and diabetes, along with seven books, including her new book, Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook, which will be published in November 2008. She is also a regular columnist at dLife.com. Here, Colberg-Ochs, who has type 1 diabetes, talks about how incorporating exercise into a diabetic lifestyle can help ease some of the complications that often go hand-in-hand with the disease.
How can exercise help a person with diabetes?
It is recommended that people with diabetes try to control the disease using diet and exercise—attack it first with lifestyle changes. It is not that they have been doing nothing, but more that their lifestyle needs to be tweaked a bit. The reason that exercise helps so much is that any muscular activity can cause your body to take up some blood glucose without the need for insulin. It acts sort of like another dose of insulin.
How should people with diabetes begin to incorporate more exercise into their lives?
First off, they need to think of ways that they can become more active on a daily basis, which includes any type of movement. You certainly can join a gym or look for activities in your area, but it’s easier to get started when it doesn’t feel like hard work. They should try to stand up more and walk around instead of sitting all the time. Getting them up on their feet is the best first step. Have them follow that up with more planned activities, like taking a daily walk and doing some light resistance training. Personally, I have learned to schedule my exercise like it’s a meeting, and I plan other things around it.
How do you encourage a person who “just doesn’t like” exercise?
They need to learn to understand exercise de-motivators, like “exercise is too hard, so it’s not fun.” When people start out too hard, they are also more likely to get injured, such as their knees bothering them or getting tendonitis somewhere. I really focus on getting them very gently to start doing more, understanding that this is something that is going to become a lifelong habit, a normal part of their lifestyle. It is not a punishment.
How does food play a part in controlling diabetes?
People need to know what sorts of effects foods are having on their blood sugar. It’s not about what foods you cannot eat—not really. A diabetic diet is more similar to than it is different from a typical healthy diet, and you can eat most foods, as long as you eat in moderation the ones that affect blood sugar more. Being a diabetic doesn’t mean you have to totally give up eating what you love.
How can people handle the emotions that come up after a diabetes diagnosis?
If you don’t learn how to handle diabetes emotionally, then doing what you need to do to take care of it is pretty much out the window. Being emotionally fit is how you stay motivated to exercise and to take control of your diabetes. You have to say, “I am going to make the most of my life and take charge of it.” A lot of people have told me that having diabetes saved their lives because it has made them reassess how important their physical health is, and they have taken better care of their bodies as a result. You have to realize that the problems of diabetes are within your control, which empowers you to take care of yourself.
What have you learned from your personal experience with diabetes?
I have learned that you have to live life first and be diabetic second. You need to say, “OK, I have this disease, but I am going to control it and not let it control me.” Ask yourself, “what are my goals?” If you want to be able to do what you want to do, and live your life the way you want to, you have to take control of your diabetes first. Then it’s always there, but it is truly secondary and not the main focus of your life. One last word of advice: Don’t use diabetes as an excuse not to exercise, but an excuse to exercise and stay healthy.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I believe that change is a necessary part of growing personally, and that times of change give you the opportunities to grow as a person in ways that you can't grow without them.
The best thing about change is...
...it gives you the chance to try out new ideas, keep the ones that work, throw out ones that don't, and transform yourself and your life into what you want them to be.
What is the best change you have ever made?
The best change I ever made was to choose to stop reliving the past or focusing solely on the future so much so that I was missing my present. I'm a much happier person because of it.
For more information about Dr. Sheri Colberg-Ochs, visit www.shericolberg.com.