Exercise and the Effect on Blood Sugar…

Diabetes is a ridiculous creature. It requires a level of balance and work that most people just don’t seem to understand. The problem is, something that works one day may not work out quite so well the next. One needs to find a delicate balance between food, insulin and exercise to maintain some semblance of good health.

When I was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1982, there were a lot of things lacking from my routine to make it a proper one. Carb counting wasn’t a thing (at least not for me) so insulin dosages were something of a guessing game. My glucometer (blood testing machine) weighed almost three pounds and it took almost two minutes for a blood sugar reading. I won’t get into the process it entailed, but it was way more complicated than the simple, ten-second finger poke I do today. The common belief at the time was that food increased blood sugar and exercise lowered it. Although this is isn’t completely false, it isn’t completely accurate either.

The human body contains some 79 organs (depending on one’s definition of an “organ” and what medical journal you’re reading). Your body has this tendency of trying to make all your internal systems work together in harmony. That being the case, your Endocrine System (the internal system that contains the Pancreas) will work to compensate for some of the things your Pancreas lacks. For more information on these individual systems, check out Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_organs_of_the_human_body)

Although I usually only work for about sixty minutes, on average, sometimes my workouts have gone for as long as two hours. When you perform intense, physically-draining exercise, your body generates adrenaline. Adrenaline is wonderful stuff. It relieves pain and alleviates some of the stressors on the body during critical moments. It also has one other unexpected side effect: in increases blood sugar. So if you’re having a total kick-ass workout and you’re having a blast and you feel that “runner’s high”, chances are that your blood sugar will rise, not drop (despite the physical exertion). If you’re doing something consistent (like running, cycling or elliptical) you’ll burn calories and lower your blood sugar. I don’t want to say that cardio in general is boring, but it doesn’t produce the adrenaline kick that high intensity workouts do.

The primary issue with this is that if one tests blood sugar levels right after a high intensity workout and takes an insulin dosage to adjust for the high, blood sugars will bottom out once the adrenaline dies out and the insulin kicks in.

There’s no magic formula to circumvent all of this. If you have Diabetes, all you can do is plan and adjust! WebMD has a good page relating to this. It can be found at https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/exercise-lower-blood-sugar#2

Things have changed considerably for me since 1982. My blood sugar is tested via wireless sensor attached to my bicep. My insulin is delivered through an insulin pump. The benefit of all these gadgets is that I’m down to one needle every three days, at most, as opposed to over a dozen needles, including blood testing and insulin injections. I’ve been taught how to carb count and calculate appropriate insulin dosages based on my specific metabolism.

Be consistent, check with your doctor before starting any major fitness regiment but stick with it. Diabetes often causes a sort of lethargy or feeling of laziness. This doesn’t mean that you can’t push beyond this feeling and experience a solid burn through your workout. Diabetes doesn’t prevent good fitness; it is simply another obstacle for a strong fitness enthusiast to work through.

Meditate Your Way to Success…

Meditation has long been steepled in mysticism and has fascinated the western world for multiple reasons. When someone mentions meditation, one can’t help but picture a little bald dude, clothes in orange robes and sitting cross-legged on the floor with his eyes closed. Despite its history and how it’s seen by the public, there’s nothing mystical about meditation.

Depending on what sect of Buddhism or style or martial arts one follows, the manner in which you meditate can differ. Some prefer to try and keep their mind completely clear of all thought (although I usually argue that thinking of nothing is, in fact, still thinking of something!) and some believe you should choose one singular thought to focus on. Some people prefer to stare vacantly and let their eyes relax, while some prefer to keep the eyes closed. Some believe that it’s important to sit crossed legged with hand on the knees, while other prefer to sit in a comfortable chair or lie down on a carpet. No matter what your preference, the end results generally tend to be the same.

No matter what your martial arts or religious background, allow me to explain what meditation is not: it is not some magic, mystical way of healing yourself. It cannot replace sleep. It likely won’t let you touch the world’s energy and you likely won’t find the answers to the universe while doing it. Bear in mind, this is coming from a Buddhist! We tend to believe we can achieve enlightenment through meditation (among other things).

Let me tell you what meditation CAN do! Medically speaking, regular meditation has been proven to slow the heart beat and lower blood pressure. This has a calming effect akin to being “zen”. It will allow you to clear your mind and relax you during times in your life when it seems like you can’t get calm. Meditation is most effective after a serious workout, as it allows your body the rejuvenative breathing required to properly oxygenate the blood after building all that lactic acid in your muscle tissues. Although some have described the ability to alleviate or block out pain, this is generally just a result of increased blood flow from deep breathing that is done during proper meditation.

My Sensei always used to tell me that twenty minutes of proper meditation could replace approximately three hours of sleep. This was generally because the calm and deep breathing associated with proper meditation would allow your body to rest and rejuvenate itself almost as effectively as sleep. This hasn’t been my experience, to be honest, but to some who practice it, it can be quite effective.

I found an illustration on Pinterest that sums it up quite nicely Here it is…

This illustration is pretty accurate. No matter what your beliefs or why you choose to do it, meditation is a healthy habit that can add a positive spin to your daily routine. I’ve been meditating for three decades now, and it has always been helpful; to find answers to problems, to calm me and to help alleviate stress.

For more information on how to meditate, wikiHow has a wonderful page that provides some basic beginner steps for those looking to start. This page can be found at https://www.wikihow.com/Meditate.

What Motivates You?

What is motivation? Webster’s Dictionary defines motivation as a motivating force, stimulus or influence. Motivation is synonymous with incentive or drive. Everyone has a source of motivation, but sometimes it isn’t evident to us.

Motivation is important; ultimately it’s what gets us out of bed in the morning, helps us fight our way through the daily rigours of life allows us to develop goals. Motivation applies to everything, not only your fitness.

Recently, I had to suffer a step backwards in my career. Nothing terminal, mind you. After all, some people don’t even have a job. But it’s caused me to seriously question what motivates me.

One of the concepts I’ve examined through the years through my Buddhist studies involves a simple three-sided relationship that maintains a strong motivational lifestyle. The concept is as follows:

  1. Everything that is alive has movement:  Even plants display some level of movement though their growth. Some plants can even move to angle themselves better to get the most sunlight they can or are even carnivorous. The takeaway is that everything that is alive, moves.
  2. Movement creates energy:  This one makes sense, doesn’t it? Humans have known for decades or longer that locomotion has the kinetic energy necessary to create energy. This is why we use hydroelectricity and wind turbines. The same concept applies to the human body. Our locomotion has the potential to maintain our energy.
  3. Energy sustains life: The last side of the triangle is rather self-explanatory. If there is no energy, there is no life. Something comparable to your smart device dying out once its battery red-lines.

So, the equation is simple: Movement brings energy, energy maintains life, life creates movement and so on and so forth in a sort of loop. If you remove or allow one of the sides to lapse, this is where motivation wanes and life fails to flourish.

For example, if you spend your days sprawled on the couch binge-watching Netflix (I’ve been guilty of this one on more than one occasion), you eliminate movement from your daily routine and this will cripple your energy. You’ll gain weight, have blood pressure issues and develop unbalanced sleep patterns. And if you cripple your energy, it affects your life. Make sense?

Obviously, there are other factors at play. Proper nutrition, rest and a supportive environment (family and friends) are the building blocks of what’s required to maintain a motivated lifestyle.

So, let’s ask the question: what motivates you? Is it your family? Is it your health and well-being? Is it your career? What if it’s all of those? It certainly is for me. But when one of those is torn away from you, you have to work all the harder to keep your motivation up. When you fall, there is nowhere to go but up. So rise up, and like the proverbial Phoenix, dust the ashes of your loss from your shoulders and be reborn! Find the reason for your motivation and there’ll be nowhere to go but up!

The Anti-Diabetes Workout Routine…

One of the things that makes me something of a Diabetes success story is my rigorous workout routine. After nearly four decades of being a type 1 Diabetic, I’ve tried a little bit of everything. This includes weightlifting, running, swimming, mountain climbing and of course, the martial arts. Even if you aren’t Diabetic, it’s important to keep things varied and allow yourself to experience a wide variety of exercise routines. Try some different workouts. One of the best sweats I’ve ever gotten was during a spin class (Thanks, Aunt Marjolaine!).

Ever since being diagnosed with Diabetes in 1982, doctors have been baffled by the fact that I have a clean nervous system, clean renal system and the heart of a horse. Most people my age with Diabetes have developed a set of severe complications that make their later life a little difficult. Despite stepping into my forties last year, this didn’t happen without a lot of hard work and effort.

Besides following a reasonable diet, balanced blood glucose, insulin levels and proper sleep (not always easy in my case), one must stay physically active as often s possible. According to http://www.active.com, the average adult should be putting in at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least 5 times a week. Although every person is a bit different, this goes a long way towards maintaining good health levels and a healthy lifestyle.

When people ask me what my workout routine includes, I usually tell them that you need two factors in order to be successful: you have to push yourself and you need to have fun! If you don’t have those two things, your success rate drops dramatically.

Expensive gym memberships aren’t necessary. Sometimes all you need is a heavy bag!

I like to do things that challenge me, but allow me to enjoy yourself as well. Even though martial arts was originally a means of improving my health and saving my life, it’s become a part of me and I practice it several times a week. Although my principal style is Okinawan Karate, I study Kempo Karate on Tuesdays and Thursday with a local school in Regina, Saskatchewan.

I also try to include heavy weights twice a week. Heavy weights shouldn’t be a main focus (unless you’re primarily a weight lifter), because the larger you get, mass-wise, the less flexible you become and other activities will get tedious. At the moment, my wife and I are are currently doing the 21-day MetaShred workout on DVD (this can be ordered through Men’s Health at https://www.shopetc.com/menshealth/21-day-metashred-dvd-water-bottle.html). It’s proven to be a wicked challenge. It permits variations of the workout for beginner, intermediate and advanced, allowing my wife and I to work out together and adjust individually as required while doing the work out together.

Find your maximum and try to do a few reps with something heavier; push yourself!

Up until 2016, my Hemoglobin A1C was always above 8.0 (for those of you who don’t understand, and A1C is the cumulative average of someone’s blood sugars over a three month period). The normal range is between 5.0 to 7.0 so I’ve been trying consistently to reduce it where I can. Stepping away from shift work has helped immensely as late night or overnight shifts will greatly affect blood sugars. These days, I’m hovering in the mid to lower 7.0’s, which is a vast improvement on the grand scale of things.

Although it’s a personal preference (and a religious one), meditation is also important. There are several books covering the subject that you can read, but the bottom line is that meditation can help with blood pressure, stress, sleep patterns and healing of the body after workouts.

At the end of the day, as long as your having fun, you can’t go wrong! Get off the couch, get your heart rate up and push yourself. If you go outside and have a snowball fight with your kids for an hour, you’ve already done well. And when you aren’t doing something physical, pick up a book! Read about whatever piques your fancy. Although many people feel they need a piece of paper to prove they’ve studied something, knowledge is knowledge. I used to say “when you aren’t exercising the body, you should be exercising the mind.”

Don’t be afraid to try new workout routines and change it up!

There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” Diabetes…

I was diagnosed with type Diabetes (previously known as “Juvenile Diabetes”) at the age of 4 years old. It was a difficult time, as my older brother had several medical issues that kept us frequenting the local hospitals on a weekly basis, so some of my symptoms went unnoticed for quite some time. And by the time they WERE noticed, things began to escalate.

My weight started to fluctuate, I was having severe mood swings (worse than the typical 4 year old, I guess) and I started wetting the bed. Some of these might have been attributed to nothing, had I not lost consciousness at the breakfast table one morning.

I was rushed to the emergency room, where doctors diagnosed me with Type 1 Diabetes. My life suddenly became a flurry of medical appointments and training. I had to learn how to test my blood glucose and take insulin injections. I started to learn a rigorous dietary regiment and was restricted from eating many of things I saw others eating.

Although many people feel that it would be horrific for a four year old child to be diagnosed with this condition, it’s been 36 years since I was diagnosed and I’ve never known differently. Diabetes has become a part of my daily lifestyle.

Throughout the years, however, I’ve had to deal with a lot of stereotypes surrounding Diabetes. Even with all the literature available on the subject, not least of which includes the Internet, people are still ignorant of what causes Diabetes and what it takes to treat it.

Here’s the reality: Type 1 Diabetes happens when your own body’s immune system destroys cells in one’s pancreas known as beta cells. These cells are the ones responsible for the production of insulin within the body. Since these cells are destroyed and no insulin is produced, artificial insulin injections are required to maintain proper glucose levels within the body.

Now that the medical jargon is out of the way, allow me to share some of the worst lines I’ve heard from people (most of which are not, nor do they care for, someone with Diabetes):

“That has sugar in it. Should you really be eating that?” (The amount of sugar or glucose in food doesn’t matter, so long as you can balance the amount of insulin you take)

“I thought only fat or obese people caught Diabetes?” (This is an aggravating factor for Type 2 Diabetes, which is something totally different from Type 1.  One’s body weight CAN affect blood sugar levels once you become Type 1, but is most definitely not a cause)

Back in the day, when I used to take insulin injections with a bottle and syringe, I had one of my professors walk in on me in the washroom. “Young man, are you taking drugs? And are you doing it while on campus?” (I actually got dragged out and brought to the college administrator’s office for that one until the matter was explained and cleared up.)

There are a lot of stigmas surrounding Diabetes and it continues to amaze me how most people don’t know the most basic facts about a condition that affects over 4 million Canadians.

I recently found an interesting website (www.getdiabetesright.org) that provided a list of Diabetes etiquette, which I find hits the nail on the head. It provides the information for people who DON’T have Diabetes. Here’s what it says:

  1. DON’T offer unsolicited advice about my eating or other aspects of Diabetes.  You may mean well, but giving advice about someone’s personal habits, especially when it’s not requested isn’t very nice. Besides, many of the popular beliefs about Diabetes (“You should stop eating sugar”) are out of date or don’t apply to Type 1 Diabetes.
  2. DON’T tell me horror stories about your grandmother or other people with Diabetes you’ve heard about.  Diabetes is scary enough, and stories like these are not reassuring! Besides, we now know that with good management, odds are good that you can live a long, healthy and happy life with Type 1 Diabetes.
  3. DON’T look so horrified when I check my blood glucose levels or give myself an injection.  It’s not a lot of fun for me either. Checking blood glucose and taking medications are things I must do to manage Diabetes well. If I have to hide while I do so, it makes it much harder for me.
  4. DON’T offer thoughtless reassurances.  When you first learn about my Diabetes, you may want to assure me with things like, “Hey, it could be worse; you could have cancer!” This won’t make me feel better. And the implicit message seems to be that Diabetes is not a big deal. However, Type 1 Diabetes (like cancer) IS a big deal.
  5. DON’T ask me “how my Diabetes is coming along.”  The management of Type 1 Diabetes involves more than taking shots and watching what you eat. It is a complex balance of three things: insulin dosage, exercise and food. Growth, illness, stress, changes in activity level, changes in where shots are given and other factors can effect this balance. On-going adjustment is needed and my numbers will fluctuate (sometimes in extremes) every day.
  6. DO realize and appreciate that Diabetes is hard work.  Type 1 Diabetes management is a full-time job I didn’t apply for, didn’t want and can’t quit. It involves thinking about what, when and how much i eat, while also factoring in exercise, medication, stress, blood glucose monitoring and so much more – each and every single day.
  7. DON’T try to find a “reason” that I have this disease.  Type 1 is not caused by being overweight. It is not caused by eating too much sugar. It is not contagious. Children do not outgrow Diabetes or their need for insulin. Nothing that my parents did or did not do could have prevented the onset . Insulin does not cure Diabetes, it controls it.
  8. DO offer your love and encouragement.  As I work hard to manage my Diabetes successfully, sometimes just knowing that you care can be very helpful and motivating.

They say that every person is going through a journey no one knows about. I’m certainly not sharing this to make anyone feel sorry for me or to complain. But like with every other serious medical condition, education is the key towards understanding this one. For more information, feel free to visit http://www.diabetes.ca, http://www.getdiabetesright.org or visit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at http://www.jdrf.ca

Way of the Empty Hand, Way of Life…

Someone asked me when I started studying the martial arts and what style I practice. The answer is a bit convoluted, and dates back to quite a while ago…

I’ve technically been interested in the martial arts since I was four years old. I had access to a lot of reading material as a child, since my father was almost as much into books then as I am now. I had started reading about traditional martial arts in general. This is also around the time I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I had a significant number of medical complications in those first few years, including being comatose on more than one occasion. I wasn’t a sporty kid when I was young. Unlike most kids my age, I wasn’t involved in soccer or hockey and preferred to spend most of my time reading books and watching documentaries (yes, I know what that makes me sound like!). I had taken swimming lessons and even started the advanced training to become a life guard, although I didn’t stick with that.

Training for my black belt in Okinawa, circa October 2001.

At seven years of age, I joined one of my friends at a local Tae Kwon Do class. I thought it would be a good way to get some exercise and it would allow me to satisfy my curiosity about the martial arts. I attended several classes over the course of the first year and started to enjoy it quite a bit. My parents didn’t approve of my choice to join martial arts as they felt that my Diabetes made me too vulnerable to be involved in rigorous physical activity. In some ways, they were very right. However, given how my body would react to Diabetes in the very near future, they were also very, very wrong…

Tae Kwon Do was fun, but it wasn’t quite right for me. For those of you who don’t study martial arts, or never have, allow me to explain; there are hundreds of different martial arts styles in the world, originating from different cultures, backgrounds and perspectives. From these styles, multiple offshoots of each style have emerged over the past centuries. Some more popular than others, some better known than others. I needed to find a style that would provide what I needed physically as well as spiritually.

In 1988, I started having more difficulties with my blood sugars and further complications arose from my Diabetes. I had an adverse reaction to extreme high blood sugar while sleeping one night and slipped into a coma. My parents found me in my bed, foaming at the mouth and my eyes rolling into the back of my head. I was rushed to the local hospital via ambulance, where they put me on an insulin drip and slowly lowered my blood sugar over the course of the following twenty-four hours and treated me for Diabetic Ketoacidosis (I ain’t explaining that one, that’s where Google comes in handy!). I was comatose for about three days. I woke up with the worse case of body pain and confusion I have ever experienced, even to this day. Further tests and a few days later, my doctors explained that I had insulin resistance. Basically, my cells were incapable of using insulin effectively, causing the high blood sugars that led to my coma. It was made quite clear that if we couldn’t find an insulin my body wouldn’t reject, my life expectancy was about three years. I was ten years old at the time.

I knew I would have to take matters into my own hands and do something. If being a child who was afraid of dying wasn’t bad enough, it often seemed as though the medical industry could do nothing to help me. Even at a young age, it appalled me that they could send a man to the moon but they couldn’t find a way to balance out my blood sugars. In the Spring of 1989, one of my best friends from childhood was studying karate in my home town. After a bit of inquiring, I learned that his father was the head instructor of the karate school, or dojo, and that it was a school of traditional Okinawan karate called Uechi Ryu. My parents were still sensitive from my coma, which had happened less than a year prior. They put a strict hiatus on my physical activities for fear that my waning health would suffer further. I ended up telling them I was quietly hanging out with friends when I attended my first karate class. I walked into that class full of hope and promise. It would ultimately lead to one of the best decisions of my life…

Practicing forms in Okinawa, circa October 2001.

Those first months in karate were rough. I had to attend classes and squirrel away my allowances to pay for tuition, all without my parents finding out. But the ruse paid off. Within the first year, my metabolism and immune system improved. I started to gain some mass and my insulin resistance began to dissipate. My parents noticed the improved blood sugars and health and I made my way forward.

By the time I had reached the point where I had to test for my green belt, it had become time to tell my parents. Considering that it would be a four hour test on a Saturday, it would be a little difficult to hide. My parents were NOT pleased with the fact that I had been keeping this from them for so long. But when weighed against the fact that it had helped towards improving my health to its current point, they agreed to allow me to continue training in karate as long as it didn’t affect my grades and schooling (which it hadn’t to this point). This solidified my martial arts lifestyle for the rest of my life.

Meditating on the mats after a two-hour workout in 2017.
Photo shoot at the RIOKK 30th Anniversary celebration in 2017.

I’m not going to say that karate changed my life, but… Okay, karate changed my life. Karate saved my life. I’ve been doing it ever since and its been an important factor in every aspect of my life. Its helped maintain my health, discipline and got me to where I am today. It also helped peak my interest in my current career direction. Over the years, I’ve met a lot of amazing people through karate and have experienced wonderful things. I began studying Buddhism in 1998 and it followed me all the way to Japan in 2001 where I had the opportunity to visit and study with Buddhist monks and train with the karate masters in Okinawa.

These days, I’ve been training in Kempo karate and furthering my martial arts training. I’ve been chatting with my karate instructor about testing for my next grade of black belt and my wife and son have started to train with me.

My three year old son and I training on the mats.
My son and I, sparring at home. Karate is in his blood!

I often wonder how far I would have made it through life, had I not started martial arts. I once heard that “we often find our destiny on the road we least thought to travel”. I have no idea who passed on the quote, but I know it’s stuck with me all my life. These days, I leave myself open to all schools of thought and train with people of all styles and backgrounds. After all, I was born with two ears and one mouth, so I tend to listen twice as much as I speak.

Feel free to leave me a comment if you’re a practitioner of the martial arts and would like to discuss.

The Art of Reading…

Lately, I’ve been thinking that the reading of actual books has become something of a lost art. I remember sitting in coffee shops in the mid to late 90’s and seeing people reading actual books. Oh sure, the occasional person would have a laptop in front of them, but they would ironically be bloggers or writers. If you step into a coffee shop nowadays, you’re more likely to see something akin to the current trend; laptops, smart phones and tablets galore. And it’s hitting younger and younger ages. My son is only four years old and he has his own iPad and runs to it, first thing every morning when he wakes up. I swear, the theme song to Paw Patrol and PJ Masks is permanently burnt into my mind.

As a child, I remember having my father walk to my bedroom and scold me because I was reading books under the covers with a flashlight. I could never get to sleep without reading a few pages, and that instinct still exists today. Although some of my methods have modernized (e-readers and tablets), my wife and I still own and read several hundred physical books. My wife also holds an actual library membership, and takes full advantage of the selection, going through story after story within very short periods of time.

I believe that despite the advancement of the technological age, nothing quite compares to holding a physical book, feeling the pages turn in your fingers and breathing in the scent of aged paper. Over the decades, I’ve come to realize that although I tend to read certain genres more than others, I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of everything. Being a student of the martial arts and Buddhism, I tend to read a lot of books and manuscripts covering those subjects as well. Books allow a person to develop their sense of imagination (this is why people often say that the movie ruined the book for them). So, keep a few books handy! The art of reading isn’t dead yet!

The book shelves in our “Reading Room”
All the extra books that haven’t been fitted onto the shelves. Yet.