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Exploring the outdoors with type 1 diabetes

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Kerri Sparling

Exploring the outdoors may sound like something that should be classified as an alternative medicine, but being outside can provide a real boost to your mental and physical health. The fresh air and sunshine really work wonders!

Managing diabetes can often feel like an all-day, everyday obligation, so mixing up your routine by getting outside can be a great way to keep feelings of monotony and boredom at bay. Here are some considerations you should take into account when heading out as well as some tips for making the most of your time outside and keeping your diabetes in check.

It's important to plan ahead (at least a little)

Exploring the outdoors doesn't come with many rules and regulations, other than "be outside" and "enjoy the scenery." But having a few plans in place can help keep your blood sugars stable — and you safe — while you explore.

If you're heading out for some moderate to intense exercise, consider making the most of your medical devices. Insulin pumps allow you to reduce your basal insulin rate, which can help mitigate low blood sugars. There are also several hybrid closed-loop systems available, which can assist in keeping your numbers in range. Additionally, continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are excellent tools for proactively managing blood sugar levels.

If you're not planning to break a sweat while out and about, you may want to invite along a friend who can provide good company and practice the buddy system in the event of a diabetes emergency. If you're heading out alone, consider letting a friend or loved one know where you're off to in advance. You should also bring a phone or other communication device with you, in case you need it.

Make sure you bring along the essentials

In addition to planning ahead, it's wise to bring along a few items that can come in handy when you (and your pancreas) are away from home. For instance, if you're going on a long hike, a run, camping for the weekend or even taking a 15-minute walk around the neighborhood to clear your head, you should bring along some water and a source of fast-acting glucose or glucagon options.

Remember, hypoglycemia doesn't care about your plans. It can sneak up on you even when you're lightly exercising, so it's a good idea to venture into nature with the assumption that a low might follow. Rescue kits, pre-filled glucagon doses and nasal glucagon help control diabetes, and all can be kept in your pocket or stashed in a bag.

If you're planning to be in the great outdoors for a while, you should definitely bring a phone or other communication device with you in case you need to call for help. Plus, many CGMs use smartphone apps to keep track of blood sugar trends, so your phone can serve many purposes. For longer outings, having an insulin pen on hand is a good insurance policy against pump site failures and stubborn high blood sugars.

Finally, no matter the length of time or distance your outdoor adventure spans, make sure you bring along (and wear) medical alert jewelry. These bracelets or necklaces can alert a first responder to your diabetes needs in the unlikely event that you aren't able to speak for yourself.

Don't let worries or fears hold you back

You've likely heard it before, but it's definitely worth repeating: Diabetes is not something that will prevent you from doing the things you want in life. People with diabetes have climbed Everest, run ultramarathons and hiked the most unforgiving landscapes in the world. A life with diabetes doesn't have to be limited. As long as you properly prepare and bring along the supplies you need, you can explore with confidence!

If you're apprehensive about venturing outside, make a list of your concerns and create a plan to address each one. Odds are good you'll be able to find a solution to each of the potential issues you identify.

Nervous about low blood sugars? Keep glucose tabs in your pocket. Concerned about ketones? Bring a bottle of water on your walk, and stay hydrated. Afraid of a big health issue sidetracking your journey? Ask a friend to come along, and wear an emergency alert pendant. If it makes you feel more secure to know where the nearest hospital is, don't hesitate to do a little research before hitting the trail.

Regular exercise keeps your heart fit, your body strong and can help with the management of your diabetes. Next time you find yourself craving a little nature therapy, don't hesitate to get outside. Breathe in the fresh air, feel the sunshine on your skin and embrace the great outdoors!

Looking for more tips around living with diabetes? Explore the Edgepark website to share in the knowledge around living a fuller life.

Kerri Sparling

Kerri Sparling is an accomplished writer and speaker who has been living with type 1 diabetes since the age of seven. She has given keynotes around the globe about life with diabetes, the influence of peer connections on health outcomes, and the power of sharing health narratives. Her work can be found at KerriSparling.com.

Diabetes Management Tip