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The groundhog may have predicted an early spring, but let’s face it – in Canada, spring never comes soon enough, and many of us look to escape the cold. In fact, according to the Canadian Tourism Commission report, over eight million of us travelled between January and March last year.

Yet for the nearly three million Canadians living with type 2 diabetes, travel can be extremely stressful; a survey showed that 59 per cent find it difficult to stay motivated to manage their diabetes while travelling or on vacation. Since diabetes is a condition that is largely self-managed and requires maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, monitoring blood glucose levels and adhering to medication, lack of motivation can have serious health consequences. 

“I love to travel, but when you have diabetes you can never really take a vacation from it,” said Heather Nutbeem, a retired social worker from Mississauga, Ontario, who has lived with type 2 diabetes for 15 years. “Travel disruptions that are a nuisance to others can be dangerous for those of us with diabetes. Flight delays or long waits at security or customs can prevent me from eating, which means significant dips in my blood sugar levels, which affects my overall health.”

According to Dr. Ronald Goldenberg, endocrinologist at LMC Diabetes & Endocrinology in Thornhill, Ontario, Nutbeem is not alone in her concerns. “Many people struggle with personal barriers or challenges when it comes to controlling their diabetes, and travel is often cited as particularly stressful,” he said. “But there are a number of steps that people living with diabetes can take to keep their condition in check.”

Dr. Goldenberg’s top tips: 

  1. Advocate for yourself. Since diabetes is largely self-managed, it’s important to become your own champion. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you need something to eat because you feel your sugar levels are getting low.
  2. Plan ahead. Eating nutritious meals and snacks is important for your health, whether you live with type 2 diabetes or not. Plan snacks and meals in advance to avoid making unhealthy choices.
  3. Be informed. A holistic approach to diabetes management also means finding a treatment that works for you. Different classes of treatment are available, so speak to your healthcare team about the treatment options that are right for you.

After many uncomfortable travel situations, Nutbeem now takes these tips to heart. She has also switched her treatment options to help stabilize her condition and has seen improvements, such as improved glucose levels and some weight loss, with a new class of oral medication that she’s taken for the past six months. The medication belongs to a class of treatments called sodium glucose co-transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, which were first approved in Canada last spring. SGLT2 inhibitors are pills that treat diabetes by increasing the excretion of glucose in the urine (resulting in greater loss of calories), thereby lowering blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes.

For more information about how to stay motivated to manage diabetes while travelling, speak to your doctor.

References: 

1. Canadian Tourism Commission. Tourism Snapshot; March 2014. Available at: http://en-corporate.canada.travel/sites/default/files/pdf/Research/Stats-figures/International-visitor-arrivals/Tourism-monthly-snapshot/tourismsnapshot_2014_03_eng.pdf.
2. Canadian Diabetes Association. Diabetes Fact Sheet. Available at: http://www.diabetes.ca/files/Diabetes_Fact_Sheet.pdf.
3. The “Motivation in Diabetes Survey” was conducted through an online survey by Leger Marketing between November 19, 2013 and November 22, 2013, with 1,000 Canadians diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.
4. Canadian Diabetes Association. Staying healthy with diabetes. Available at  http://www.diabetes.ca/documents/about-diabetes/316537-08-399-staying-healthy-with-diabetes_0413_AF_final.pdf 

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