Sports plays a big role in many people’s lives and especially in the lives of diabetics. It is a valuable method of diabetes management and is adopted by many diabetics. On the back of the Olympic Movement’s excitement in the past few days, awarding Tokyo the right to host the Olympic Games of 2020, the reinstatement of wrestling as an Olympic sport and the imminent election of a new president for the International Olympic Committee, we wanted to highlight the importance of sport as a management tool for diabetes, and so diabetes.bh caught up with a diabetic Bahraini who does just that. Diabetes.bh spoke with Dr. Sh. Saqer bin Salman Al Khalifa…
Saqer, please tell our readers what you do for a living.
I work in Bahrain Economic Development Board, heading the Investor Relations team. We mediate and moderate between the private and public sector in order to ensure business continuity in Bahrain.
When did you first find out you had diabetes? How did it happen?
I was 27 when I got diagnosed with Type II diabetes.
It started when I was pursuing my Ph.D. in Political Science in Claremont, California. Pursuing such a degree can take its toll on you mentally and physically as the study course is highly intensive and requires a lot of time, effort and dedication. I studied extremely hard for my qualifying exams, harder than I have ever studied in my entire life. I was worried that if I failed, I would lose three years of hard work, my scholarship, and owe a lot of money as a result of my failure. Only a handful of people pass the qualifying exams and make it to the dissertation stage in my school.
I found myself drinking a lot of water, unable to sleep through-out the night without bathroom breaks, and slowly losing my eyesight. I did not realize it was a problem, and didn’t think that anything was wrong at all. During the exam, I had to visit the bathroom very often, which was very uncomfortable for me and everyone else in the examination room. I got the news that I have passed my qualifying exams while at a stopover in London. I was extremely happy.
Shortly after, while in Bahrain, as I walk daily to the Mosque, I found it difficult to recognize my friends approaching me from different streets. It wasn’t until one day a friend of mine asked me if I was able to see him wave from a distance. I mentioned to him that my eyesight isn’t as strong as it used to be, and that I’m recently finding myself constantly thirsty. He had advised that I visit a hospital and check my sugar level. That’s when I was first diagnosed with diabetes.
It was difficult to accept at first, and I was in a state of denial. I did not find the hospital visit to be very helpful; all they did was give me a leaflet with information about diabetes just five minutes after my diagnosis. The leaflet included amputated limbs, telling me that this could be my future. Fortunately for me, I have a strong heart and consider myself to be well educated as to not get depressed with the information on the leaflet as it could carry a serious psychological effect if not addressed properly to the patient.
What was the immediate impact of the discovery on your life and relatives?
Immediately I knew that I had to get started with sports again, and fix the way I eat. I did not maintain a healthy diet at the time. I did not know what calories were. Yes, it was that bad! My family supported me by buying me the right foods that my body needed. It was still hard to see them eat the foods that they (and myself) liked right in front of me.
What medications do you take to manage your diabetes?
For five years I was on pills, from Januvia to Actos to Amaryl. I lost a lot of weight, and found it a bit difficult to manage my diabetes. Just recently, I got tired of being underweight, and felt like I needed better medication. So my doctor suggested that I take insulin. Since taking insulin, I have gained 13 KG, and managed to regulate my blood sugar. I feel heavier, run slower, swim slower, but at least I have some cheeks now.
What strategies do you employ to help you manage your diabetes?
Of course the more I run, cycle, and swim, the less insulin my body needs. I noticed that these sports together are perfect to regulate and perhaps even prevent diabetes. I read many studies that suggest a combination of resistance training and cardio exercises are best for my type of diabetes, and I am noticing that this actually works well for me.
Also, whenever I want to eat something that I know might not be very healthy for me, I try to limit myself to a smaller portion and eat it in a hard workout day. That way, I would minimize its impact on my health, whilst still satisfying my cravings.
Do sports compose a major part of your strategy to manage diabetes?
Sports are in fact saving my life. Even if my blood sugar gets too high or too low after playing sports, I know that it is working out my organs and helping my digestive system. It is actually THE major part in my strategy to manage diabetes.
Has diabetes been a limiting factor in your sporting achievements?
I have mixed feelings about this question. As a competitive person and an over-achiever, I always envision my life without diabetes and think that without it, I would be able to push harder. However, while I do set my goals high, I also have secondary goals of making sure I do not cross the finish line unless I have pushed as hard as I can. I want to be satisfied, and if I pass the finish line with some energy left, I will be more disappointed than not achieving my goals. I have learned to accept everything God has bestowed upon my life.
How do you manage your food intake and hydration (vis-a-vis managing your blood sugar level) especially with the intense sports you do?
It is extremely difficult to manage food intake and hydration, but practice makes perfect. Before any workout or race, I have to measure my blood sugar and calculate the time of the race. Every factor plays a big role in my decision, and it is not easy to balance everything out. The weather temperatures, the humidity, time after the last meal, and many other factors all play a big role. I am still learning.
What are your upcoming events and goals?
For now, I am training for an Ironman triathlon in Florida. This is the toughest public race on this planet. I wanted to do one for each year throughout my 30s. Now, at 33, I am already 3 years behind. Finally, I had an opportunity to participate and am very excited about it.
Any final words for our readers?
I strongly believe that diabetes is a blessing in disguise. I have learned a lot about myself and appreciated life much more. I became a better person and made peace with reality. Overall, diabetes made me a winner and a much better father figure for my kids especially in maintaining their health. When they ask me if this is forever, I say no, it is only temporary and only until the day I pass away. For now, I live life by the day, and always strive to play a small role in making this world a better place.
To learn more about diabetes, how to diagnose it, how to deal with it and where to go for support please visit the diabetes.bh resources section.