Type 1 Diabetes, Exercise and Sport
When you think of diabetes you may think of someone who eats a diet high in sugar. Whilst lifestyle factors such as diet, weight or reduced exercise are generally the cause of Type 2 diabetes, it’s not the case for Type 1 diabetes, which is caused by the body’s immune system attacking itself.
Today, Physio Connex Performance Clinic’s Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Scott Howard, chats with Logan Flanagan, a 23 year old representative touch football player and Type 1 diabetic, who gives us a firsthand account of living with this condition.
Logan, can you start off by telling us about yourself and your sporting achievements?
Thank you so much for having me onboard. I’m so excited to share some insights into diabetes and also playing sport whilst living with this disease. I play both representative touch and Rugby 7s.
My sporting achievements include representing my local, regional and state sporting community throughout both codes at both a junior and senior level. At 19, I was also named in the Youth Australian Touch Football Squad. Along with being a part of the premiership winning Canterbury Bulldogs touch football team, I also play with the NRL Touch West Tigers and the AON Rugby 7s squad for The UNE LIONs.
When did you find out you had Type 1 diabetes? How did you and your family react to this diagnosis?
I first found out in March 2007 – I had just turned 10.
My family and I were all in shock as there was no family history of diabetes on either side of my extended family. It was a huge curve ball thrown at us and we just had to adapt to a new life. It was so life changing for everyone not just myself. I guess my parents helped me adapt by diving into the unknown and learning and doing as much research as they could alongside all my doctors and specialists. They were there to remind me when times got tough or were challenging that I would get through it. My little brother also learnt as he got older how to help me and how to use all the utensils. He learnt how to inject my insulin with a needle and use my machine to prick my fingers to check my blood glucose levels. Whenever there’s an emergency or I’m severely sick with my diabetes he’s always there. My family all took in the changes side by side with me to make me feel more comfortable and relaxed about the life changing condition. I couldn’t imagine getting through this without them. They all go above and beyond.
What do you have to do to manage your Type 1 diabetes and play sport?
In general, I require blood glucose monitoring at least 5-6 times day, double that when playing a game or in a tournament. I now have an Insulin Pump which I wear 24/7 and take off when I train, play or when in water i.e. swimming or showering. The insulin pump makes playing sport and managing diabetes that much easier. I always carry poppers with me wherever I go as they are a quick easy way to spike my sugars when I’m having a hypoglycaemic low. Which can occur at any time. I can suffer these a lot after big games, trainings and tournaments which is what they call a delayed hypo as it can be up to 24hrs later which can be when I’m in bed at 3am for example.
I make sure to let all my coaches know so they can look out for signs and symptoms of highs and lows because it can come on so quickly.
Diabetes can be such a mental game especially when you mix in the sport as nerves and adrenaline can have such an impact on my performance. These hormones can send my sugar levels high and then cause me to be off with the fairy’s and have a hard time focusing on training or playing. It’s a lot going on for someone and it’s not always visible which is the hardest thing for people to comprehend.
Managing blood sugars sounds like a delicate balancing act with short duration high intensity exercise (eg. 100m sprint) commonly causing a hyperglycaemic or “hyper” episode, where your blood sugars are too high, and long duration moderate intensity exercise (eg. marathon running), and a combination of high and moderate intensity exercise (eg. touch football) commonly causing a hypoglycaemic or “hypo” episode, where your blood sugars are too low.
Have you ever experienced a hyper or hypo playing sport and if so, what did you do to overcome it?
Yes, it definitely can be a balancing act and things don’t always work out as planned. I’m not perfect at managing my diabetes but I’ve come to learn that no one is perfect and that I have my own way of doing things that work for me and it can always be different for each individual who suffers diabetes. I’ve had so many glucose highs and lows both playing and training for my sports. I usually will just drop out for 10mins and have myself a Juice Popper and a slow release carb eg a banana. I’ve never had any serious episodes whilst playing but have had some serious ones before and after games and tournaments. One that sticks clearly in my mind would have being back in 2013, the day of my first Vawdon Cup Qualifying Final with the Canterbury Bulldogs. I didn’t wake up from the night before as I was in a severe hypoglycaemic low and unconscious which required an ambulance paramedic call to bring me out of my low. But 10hrs later I still managed to take the field that night with my team mates and play. It was definitely one of the scariest moments I’ve gone through.
What are the signs that can be observed by other players, trainers, coaches etc that you may be experiencing a hypo and what can they do to help?
This will happen when my blood glucose level becomes too low, less the 4mmol/L. Each individual can have different symptoms but some the same. For me I’ll start to feel confused, suffer shakiness, loss of mobility and coordination, unable to follow instructions, blurred vision, off in my own little world so loss of confusion and mood swings. I don’t always suffer from the symptoms I just mentioned but have at one time or another. It constantly changes across time. With severe episodes, I can slur my speech, sweat excessively, become limp and unable to swallow. I cannot treat my own low in these circumstances and need immediate help.
Do you have any sporting role models living with Type 1 diabetes that you have followed in your sporting career?
I did yes. Not long after I was diagnosed I was introduced to Brett Stewart ( Ex NRL Player ) who played for Manly Sea Eagles and he sat down with me after one game and spent a couple of hours exposing the effects of sport and diabetes and how to manage and control it efficiently whilst playing such high intensity sport. He was so knowledgeable and helpful and made the transition with diabetes so smooth and easy. I’ve always followed Manly from then on and just wanted to become somewhat of the same calibre and help young people transition with their diabetes and sport.
Do you have any advice for young people who have recently been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes who would like to start or continue playing sport?
I would say don’t give up. It’s one life changing setback that sets us up for greatness. We are just as talented as those who don’t have Type 1 diabetes and this just makes us more resilient and stronger. I hate hearing that adults and young people think they should give up playing sport. I’ve found sport to be my outlet and run around like everyone else. It’s helped me have much better control with my diabetes and also helps improve our insulin sensitivity; meaning we don’t need to have as much insulin as those who don’t exercise. It also helps reduce stress and reduce the effects of long-term complications.
Thank you, Logan, for taking the time to give us an insight into how your condition has impacted on your life and sporting career as well as the invaluable advice for aspiring sports people and associated supporters.
To follow Logan’s journey, follow her on Instagram @that_smytype
To find out more about Type 1 diabetes, Exercise and Sport Science Australia have released a great article this week in their mission to help people become more aware of this condition, or visit Diabetes Australia.