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Shared experience

“Evidence gives us a great opportunity” – making exercise easier with type 1 diabetes

Chris Bright, JDRF’s Community Partnerships and Events Lead, shares how he’s turned his personal experience into evidence to help people with type 1 diabetes get into sports and exercise.

JDRF's Chris Bright who lives with type 1 in action on the Futsal court pictured immediately after kicking the ball with team mates watching on subs bench

Having played sport for longer than I’ve had type 1 diabetes, being able to provide support in this area in my role at JDRF is extremely important to me.

I was diagnosed with type 1 age eight and as an avid footballer then, and now, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges of being active with type 1 at different ages, in different environments and in different sports. Through those experiences, alongside the opportunities I’ve had to play football and futsal from grassroots through to an international level, I’ve been able to hone in on where improvements could be made for people with type 1.

The Diabetes Football Community

This knowledge and experience led me to develop The Diabetes Football Community (TDFC) which provides a supportive community for anyone with diabetes who’s passionate about football. What I learned from working on this peer support project has helped hugely in the approach I’m now taking at JDRF to tackle what we know is an important topic for our type 1 community.

In February 2023, the research I did for my Masters degree, which looked at the issues faced by people with type 1 in sport, was published. This is when I started thinking about gathering more evidence to help to build a picture of the challenges faced by people with type 1 who want to do exercise, sport and physical activity.

Building an evidence base

Recently, we ran a poll via the JDRF Social Media channels to help us understand the themes which are important amongst the community. Unsurprisingly to us, based on our experience talking to people with type 1, physical activity and sport came out as one of the most important.

Diving further into insights

This insight gave us an opportunity to drive our own insight into type 1 and physical activity – the first time we’ve done this at JDRF UK. Thanks to the generous support we received from the Peter Harrison Foundation, we conducted a survey of just over 300 people living with type 1, to look at where people saw the challenges and barriers to accessing physical activity.

Fear of hypos

The survey findings showed the challenge that hypoglycaemia poses whilst being physically active, with 46% of respondents telling us that hypoglycaemia presented a barrier to being physically active. 39% of respondents said that the complexity of managing type 1 around exercise stopped them taking part.

Misinformation and stigma

Another area of focus within the survey was that 66% of people surveyed reported that they’d either never or only on a couple of occasions found a PE teacher, sports coach, or facilitator of sport and physical activity to be educated around type 1 diabetes in this setting. Coupling this with around half of people with type 1 having been told that they’re inactive or lazy because of their type 1 diabetes (46%) or that people with type 1 aren’t able to be physically active (48%), there is a clear need for wider education and awareness of the condition in this sector.

Working with partners and sports and exercise providers

This evidence, and our work as part of the type 1 community, has given us a great opportunity to lean on the insight we’ve gleaned to inform future practice across the physical activity sector and drive greater impact for people with type 1. Most people with type 1 diabetes undertake some level of physical activity and we want to positively impact on making that easier to do.

We’re working alongside key partners to address the education gap and have already developed the Diabetes and Football Guidelines alongside Diabetes UK, The Diabetes Football Community and the Football Association of Wales (FAW) to support coaches and facilitators of football with a basic understanding of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. We now hope to roll this guidance out to other national governing bodies in sport as well as physical activity providers, such as gyms and leisure centres, and physical education settings such as schools and colleges.

Building knowledge and confidence in the type 1 community

We’re always striving to improve the provision of educational resources to cover the themes identified by the type 1 community, where support is required. We’re working closely with EXTOD (an organisation that supports people with type 1 to do exercise) and healthcare professionals, as well as experts with lived experience, to ensure we can provide those living with type 1 with as much knowledge as possible.

We’ve updated our exercise and physical activity information on our website, including lots of personal stories from people with type 1 on a variety of sports and physical activities. We’ve focused on sports and exercise at our in-person and virtual Discovery Days, with more planned for the future, and our Sports Day community event which we run every summer.

Influencing for a more active future

From my personal experiences, I know the challenge of both a lack of education and the need to know as much about type 1 management around physical activity as possible, to ensure I’m able to participate in sport, as well as manage the physical movement associated with everyday life. This evidence really does help us to influence the future.

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