Most of us who have diabetes are quite well aware that what and how much we eat, our weight, how much we exercise, and the quality of our sleep affects our blood glucose and blood pressure levels. But, until recently, the precise connections between these factors were clouded in generalities.
It would be nice to know the answers to questions such as the following: How much is the bar of chocolate you sneak now and then affecting your glucose level? What effect does a new exercise regime have on your blood pressure? If you have a few restless nights in a row, how is your blood glucose affected? Did losing a few kilograms reduce your average glucose levels?
I’m sure you can think of hundreds of questions where you would find the answers very useful in helping you control your diabetes. It is now possible to find answers for many of these questions using activity tracking.
Activity tracking is the monitoring and recording of fitness-related metrics such as distance walked or run, calories used up, heart beat etc.
The first activity trackers were plain old pedometers, a small device you wear on a belt around your waist that measures the number of steps you take when you are walking. It works by counting the vibrations caused by your footsteps. I have found pedometers useful and have used one to judge the exercise value (number of paces) of the regular routes I take on my daily walks.
Electronic activity trackers are upgraded pedometers with lots of added features. As well as counting steps, they can calculate distance, overall physical activity, and calorie expenditure. Some trackers can also record your heart rate and the quality of your sleep.
The first activity trackers were worn on the waist. The latest trackers come in the form of armbands and wristbands, as well as small devices that can be worn wherever you want. Some trainers and runners even have built-in sensors that can export data wirelessly to a website, smartphone or computer.
The latest activity trackers can be linked either by cable or wirelessly to a computer or smartphone for long-term data building. The most sophisticated systems have facilities that enable you to input your blood glucose readings and details of what you have eaten, along with your blood pressure figures, in order to bring all the interrelated data together into a single information system.
Glucose and food
Naturally, being diabetic, you check your blood glucose when you awake in the morning and two hours after each meal. You can record these on paper, in a computer using a spreadsheet or you can enter them into your smartphone or activity tracker. There are also some glucose monitoring systems where the tester you use stores your glucose data in the cloud, which reduces the space taken up in your smartphone.
Recording what you have eaten and comparing it with your after-meal glucose readings can give you a valuable insight into how the food you eat affects your blood sugar levels. There are several computer programs, apps for your smartphone and websites for doing this. These calculate the calories in what you eat and show how particular foods are affecting your after-meal glucose levels.
You can also use data from activity trackers that calculate calorie expenditure to compare the calories you eat with the calories you burn. All this data, glucose readings, food eaten, calories ingested and calories burned can be linked to your weight gain or loss, which enables you to see exactly what you are doing right and where you are going wrong.
While not essential to beat your diabetes, exercise does help you lower your blood glucose levels. More importantly, it plays an essential role in controlling your blood pressure.
A pedometer is always included in an activity tracker. Using the steps taken, the activity tracker can also calculate the number of calories you burn throughout your day. The more calories you burn, the better will your control of your blood glucose.
Calculating the number of calories you burn can then be compared with the number of calories you ingest as mentioned above. By matching these up you’ll have the data you need to control your blood glucose levels either by reducing your intake of calories (eat less) and by upping your calorie burn (through more exercise).
You can also use a hi-tech monitoring system to input your blood pressure readings. By matching your daily exercise with your blood pressure readings you should be able to see how the amount of exercise you do affects your blood pressure over time.
To control your diabetes you must maintain your weight at the recommended level. To do this, you need to weight yourself and record your weight with on a regular basis. You can then adjust your diet or exercise routine to bring your weight down (or up, if you are extra skinny).
To record you weight you can use a notebook and pen, a computer program or smartphone app, or an electronic weighting scales that uploads readings to a website, smartphone or computer. Again a hi-tech integrated system is best as it will show you the relationship between you weight and your blood glucose levels, especially if you are reducing your weight through diet and exercise.
Several sleep problems, such as nerve pain and sleep apnoea, are associated with diabetes and these can cause you to have restless nights. In addition, if you wake up in the middle of the night a lot, this may be a sign that your blood glucose if getting too low when you are asleep.
Many activity trackers have motion sensors that can track you sleep and record how restless you are at night. This is useful as an indicator of the quality of your sleep (though obviously the trackers cannot tell you the cause of your restlessness).
As well as indicating quality, sleep tracking can show whether you are getting enough sleep. This is important as the amount of sleep you get can affect your glucose levels. Not enough sleep will tend to increase blood sugar levels.
While seven to nine hours a night is recommended, I seem to do fine on just six hours or so. If you are not getting enough sleep, the solution is simple. Go to bed a bit earlier.
If you have diabetes, there is an 85% chance that you also have hypertension, abnormally high blood pressure (BP). There is plenty of BP measuring devices you can use at home.
Some of these are quite sophisticated and can record your BP readings over time or upload them to a computer, smartphone or website where they can be integrated with all the other data on your activities, food and glucose readings that you are gathering. This will give you a fuller picture of how your lifestyle is affecting your health.
Getting it all together
Once all this data has been integrated into a single information system, you will have comprehensive feedback on the reasons why your blood glucose and blood pressure are or are not under control.
Most of these hi-tech devices will record all the parameters mentioned in this essay and the direct relationships between them will be quite obvious. You’ll have the answers you need to all those questions.
Research indicates that tracking of these parameters comprehensively delivers an awareness that stimulates motivation. One study found that people who just use old-fashioned pedometers increase their activity by at least 25% which helps their glucose and blood pressure levels. Other studies have found that diabetics who use apps to record their behaviour have better long-term control of their diabetes.
There hi-tech devices provide simple, more accurate and more effective ways to monitor and control your diabetes. By getting reliable data on your blood glucose, blood pressure, weight, and eating, exercising, and sleeping patterns you have the information you need to beat your diabetes.