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Content Creator Drew Harrisberg’s Tips for Exercising and Living Well With Type 1 Diabetes

drew harrisberg-diabetes-type 1-exercise-fitness
drew harrisberg-diabetes-type 1-exercise-fitness
Drew Harrisberg

Drew Harrisberg is an exercise physiologist, sports scientist, and diabetes educator who is living with type 1 diabetes. We spoke with him about how he’s used diet and exercise to help manage his diabetes, and his tips for others looking to safely do the same.

When were you first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and what was your initial reaction?

I was initially diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 22. It came at a time when I felt I was in the prime of my life. I had recently graduated from university as a sports scientist, I was playing gigs around Sydney as a singer-songwriter, I was modeling with prestigious international agencies, and was in the process of becoming a qualified health professional in exercise physiology. I felt unstoppable. 

When I got the diagnosis, I truly felt like my life was over. I was sitting next to my dad, an ophthalmologist who had dedicated a large portion of his career to diagnosing and treating diabetic eye complications. There was not even a glimmer of hope in the dark future that I foresaw. I was angry, sad, confused, shocked and completely lost. For the first time in my life, I understood the meaning of the phrase “the world caved in” because I saw it with my own two eyes.

What led you to start sharing your fitness journey and tips on social media?

I felt a responsibility to share my experience from the unique perspective of someone living with type 1 diabetes and someone who was qualified as an exercise physiologist. In some ways, I was doing it for me to document my journey, but it quickly evolved into a service for others so that I could educate, inspire, and build a community along the way.

I clearly remember making a conscious decision to become a role model for people living with diabetes. At first, it felt like a duty, but now it is a pleasure and a passion.

What do you think are some common misconceptions about exercising with diabetes?

People think that exercising with diabetes is inherently dangerous, which is misleading. It can also be a very counterproductive thought if it results in people avoiding exercise altogether.

It’s true that exercise canbe dangerous, but it depends on the context. If you have too much insulin on board and/or you don’t have glucose supplies nearby to treat low blood glucose levels (BGLs), it can be problematic. It also depends on the type of exercise that you’re doing, because different modalities have different effects on BGLs.

For example, high-intensity exercise can increase one’s BGL and low-intensity can reduce it. So, if you have a lot of insulin on board and you’re performing a type of exercise that rapidly drops BGLs, then it can be dangerous. But if you’re performing exercise with minimal insulin on board and the modality is one that does not rapidly drop BGLs, then you can reap the benefits.

The truth is, if you know how to exercise safely and effectively, it is a foundational pillar of diabetes management.

What is the key to living a healthy and normal life with diabetes?

Diabetes management is all about balance, literally and figuratively. You’re constantly balancing your BGLs with your insulin requirements. But you’re also balancing the lifestyle factors that influence insulin and BGLs, such as what you eat, how you move, sleep quality and quantity, stress management, and the list goes on.

I’ve developed a multi-pillar approach to living a long and healthy life with diabetes: movement, nutrition, daily living, and mindfulness. By getting a daily dose of each pillar, you can live a great life with diabetes, but it requires constant work, education, and self-experimentation. There will be setbacks and triumphs along the way, but you need to consistently show up with a healthy mindset day after day.

One of my favorite quotes is “Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress,” and that couldn’t be more appropriate when it comes to living with diabetes. It will never be perfect. It’s a tricky condition to live with, but it’s certainly manageable. In fact, I truly feel happier and healthier today living with diabetes than I did before my diagnosis.

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