November: American Diabetes Month
The number of teens living with type 2 diabetes – characterized by either a lack of insulin or the body’s inability to use insulin efficiently – has increased in recent years.
But despite the many challenges that young athletes with diabetes face, they can lead active lives and benefit from participating in sports.
In recognition of November being American Diabetes Month we checked in with Annie B. Kay, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and co-author with Dr. Lisa B. Nelson of Yoga and Diabetes, to get her take on what parents and coaches of young athletes need to know when it comes to children and diabetes:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What challenges do kids with type 2 diabetes face while participating in sports?
KAY: Sports are an ideal part of a healthy, active lifestyle for kids with any type of diabetes. In general, exercise helps improve diabetes management for everyone with diabetes. Kids who use insulin (they can be either type 1 or type 2) will need to test their blood glucose frequently to make sure that their blood glucose (blood sugar) doesn’t go too low or too high. If blood glucose levels get low, they may need a high-carbohydrate drink or snack, such as a sports drink or an orange, to raise blood glucose levels.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Are sports safe for kids with type 2 diabetes to participate in?
KAY: Absolutely, but an ounce of training and prevention will ensure safe and productive participation. In addition to knowing how to manage low blood glucose, the coach should have a general understanding of the symptoms of high blood glucose. A child should skip physical activity if their blood glucose is excessively high. The athlete’s doctor should tell them the blood glucose levels to watch out for.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Are certain sports better or worse for kids with type 2 diabetes?
KAY: A child with well managed type 2 diabetes can participate in any sports they enjoy, so long as they and their adult supervisors are aware of their condition and are able to manage it.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What are common misconceptions parents or coaches of young athletes often have regarding diabetes?
KAY: People may think that having diabetes creates some sort of limits on what a kid can do. But the fact is that there is nothing about having diabetes that should change the sports and activities that a kid can do, and in fact physical activity can help manage type 2 diabetes. When a child with the condition wants to join your team, it gives you the opportunity to help change the course of a young person’s life in a positive way. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed through diet and being regularly physically active.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: If you were talking to a room full of parents with kids who have type 2 diabetes what is the message you want them to hear regarding their child and participating in sports?
KAY: I would do my best to inspire them to be physically active along with their children, and encourage their child with type 2 diabetes to enjoy whatever physical activity they may like to pursue. The point being that everyone benefits from an active lifestyle and healthy eating, and we can all be great models of self-care. So, take walks together, dance together. If your child can learn to enjoy movement, it can help them be healthier for life.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How does yoga benefit kids dealing with this disease?
KAY: Yoga helps manage stress, it isn’t a ‘sporty’ sport, and from my experience certain kids just love it. If a child is drawn to yoga (and yoga is usually adapted to kids, the practice is different than an adult yoga class), it can be part of a lifestyle that helps them manage their condition.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Should different types of yoga be used for different age levels?
KAY: Yes. You want yoga to be fun, so the way postures are described and the complexity of postures tend to be simpler and fun-oriented for younger ages. Too, children tend to be quite a bit more flexible than adults, and there can be a risk of overstretching (we all love to do what we are good at). So, an all-around children’s yoga program will focus on strength, flexibility, breathing, balance and concentration.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How does a parent get a child started in yoga?
KAY: More schools are offering yoga classes now, or you can ask at your local community center or gym. Look for a yoga teacher trained in classes for children.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: If a child has type 2 diabetes should a parent inform the coach of this before the season begins?
KAY: For the child’s safety, parents should inform a coach. A coach open to, supportive, and assistive of the child will ensure that an issue will be addressed safely and effectively, should the need for managing high or low blood glucose arise.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Do volunteer coaches need to treat kids with type 2 diabetes any differently than their other athletes – such as adjust conditioning drills?
KAY: No, but the coach should have a general understanding of the symptoms of high and low blood glucose, and be able to respond should an incident occur.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Is there anything else that would be important for a parent or volunteer coach to know regarding type 2 diabetes?
KAY: Just that physical activity is an essential part of managing the condition. So, while it takes a bit to learn about how to manage the condition, if we can encourage young people living with type 2 diabetes the importance and fun of movement, and then they begin to feel better, we are really enhancing their whole lives, as well as their health.
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