Harry Flint says a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes 13 years ago was the wakeup call he needed to make some dramatic changes in his life. The 63-year-old Calgary trucking sales manager weighed almost 300 pounds, smoked a pack-and- a-half of cigarettes a day and routinely ate take-out in front of the tube. “If it weren’t for that diagnosis, I’d be dead by now because I probably wouldn’t have changed my lifestyle.”
First Mr. Flint tossed his smokes. Then he cut out thefast food, took up running and watched the pounds peel off. Since then he’s lost 100 pounds. In 2005, he also joined Team Diabetes, the national, physical activity fundraising program of the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA), and credits that decision as being instrumental in his journey to good health.
Not only has he completed 25 marathons and half-marathons in exotic destinations such as Barcelona and Hawaii with Team Diabetes, but he has benefited from the camaraderie of being alongside the many others who are running for the cause. Mr. Flint says being part of Team Diabetes has given him a renewed sense of purpose (he’s raised more than $100,000 in donations) and also given him friends for life. “All of us bond together during these Team Diabetes events – it’s a real family atmosphere.”
One of the keys to successful diabetes management is being in charge of your health, says Joanne Lewis, manager of diabetes education for the CDA. “People with diabetes who are involved in the decision-making around their health feel a greater sense of control over how things are being managed. Knowledge builds power, so the more you know about managing diabetes, the better.”
To help people with diabetes feel more in control, the CDA has developed a new set of user- friendly customized online tools that encourage patients to play a leading role in managing their diabetes. Available in one easy-to-access online space at www.diabetes.ca/takecharge, these resources are based on the Canadian Diabetes Association 2013 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada (Guidelines).
The new diabetes tools include:
- an interactive tool to determine optimal blood glucose (sugar) testing patterns,
- blood glucose log pages,
- an action plan to help set goals and targets,
- advice on building a diabetes care team,
- guidelines for preparing for diabetes health-care visits,
- a progress form to document information from various members of the diabetes healthcare team (which can be shared among health professionals), and
- a self-assessment tool to determine the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Ms. Lewis says the personal care plan is an especially handy tool since it tracks whether required tests and screenings, such as eye care visits and cholesterol checks, are done at the right time. And the “My Team’s Notes” tool offers a convenient way to document all of the input from the various health-care professionals a person with diabetes encounters, she adds.
Sometimes, as in Mr. Flint’s case, simply being diagnosed with diabetes is all the motivation needed to kick-start new food and fitness routines. But it isn’t always easy.
Most of us are well aware of what we need to do to stay healthy: eat our greens, get moving, and limit fat, sugar and salt – everything in moderation. The trick lies in actually doing all of this. It’s especially daunting when living with a chronic disease, like diabetes, that is dependent on how careful you are about your self-management and food intake or how committed you are to an exercise regimen.
“Most people with diabetes will eventually end up on medication, and they shouldn’t feel guilty about this,” says Dr. Catherine Yu, an endocrinologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and chair of the committee responsible for dissemination and implementation of the CDA’s internationally recognized Guidelines. “But it’s important to remember that activity and nutrition – in combination with good medication management – is the cornerstone by which we manage diabetes and its complications,” she stresses.
Key recommendations in the Guidelines include getting at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week as well as two (preferably three) sessions of resistance exercise weekly, and consuming carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (GI), such as whole grains and legumes, which helps control blood glucose levels.
Dr. Yu advises using an eight- to nine-inch dinner plate and filling half of it with veggies, a quarter with low GI carbohydrates and a quarter with protein. (Visit www.diabetes.ca/plate for an example.) “It’s important to rethink how we load our plates,” she says.