The importance of exercising has been emphasised in a US review to help teenagers with type 1 diabetes avoid heart complications.
Joslin Diabetes Center researchers in the US interviewed 22 teenagers with type 1 diabetes and a group of parents whose children also had the condition.
Some of the young people who were spoken to also had a condition called dyslipidemia, an increase of unhealthy fat in the blood. Left untreated, dyslipidemia can lead to cardiovascular disease, such as blocked arteries or heart attacks.
Maintaining good heart health is important for people with type 1 diabetes, and the researchers wanted to explore the best ways to communicate with young people about how they can avoid developing heart complications.
The interview outcomes showed that parents were ‘hesitant’ about starting their child on new medications and they viewed it as ‘a last resort’.
Among the key strategies was a suggestion for doctors and healthcare professionals to offer realistic and specific guidance. For example, in regards to exercise, being encouraged to recruit regular exercise partners and join sports clubs.
Dr Michelle Katz, associate director of the Pediatric, Adolescent and Young Adult Section at the Joslin Diabetes Center and who led the study, said: “We recognise that teens may not have a lot of knowledge, so we start our discussions at a pretty basic level, going over what blood pressure and cholesterol are.
“We encourage really specific goal-setting, drilling down on that with them. We’re also putting teens on an exercise app with virtual exercise buddies, to help give them some motivation.
“Teens also look for detailed personalized guidance. They want to know, ‘What is my personal risk? What are my risk factors and what can I do about them? What are the foods that I can eat, what’s a good menu for men, and what are good activities for me?'”
A pilot study has now been launched by the research team to encourage teenagers with type 1 diabetes to engage more in behaviours that will reduce their chances of developing cardiovascular disease.
“There’s an immediacy in how teens view things. So we try to reach them where they’re at, and think about what will motivate them,” added Dr Katz.
“For example, a lot of heart-healthy behaviours may improve how they look and feel. Some teens may be motivated by the prospect of losing weight, or having more energy, or potentially having clearer skin.”
The review was published in the Pediatric Diabetes journal.

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