Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stress, Dogs and Diabetes

Over and over we read that stress is part of what is killing Americans.  Stress causes us to lose sleep, eat more, gain weight, and increase our blood pressure. All of these things have been shown to lead to diabetes, stroke, heart attack and death. 

For the few years my endo (endocrinologist - the primary care physician for your diabetes) had been begging me to get my stress down.  It was literally driving up my blood sugars.  We could track which days of the week were more stressful for me by watching what happened to my blood sugar readings.  Once I found that correlation I did my best to add in exercise or reduce my carbs on those days but to no avail - once I was stressed my blood sugar could easily jump 100 points.

I went on insulin after a bad case of food poisoning and my doctor kept me on it so I could force my sugars to go down.  Not a good situation for me to be in since insulin can lead to weight gain. 

Once I left my stressful job behind things began to improve. I saw a drop in my blood sugars and A1C results but I was till dealing with residual stress and a disrupted sleep pattern which was being supported by my love of my ipad and all things Angry Birds.  Just one more game is not good when you realize it is 1 am.  The best speaker and writer on sleep in recent years has been Arianna Huffington who writes about how electronics are constant connectivity are killing sleep.  She spoke on this at a Women of Vision event and I was lucky enough to be her handler and get some private time with her.  She talked so much about sleep in her talk that I did stop doing email in bed though I relapsed when the ipad became my tv, game station, computer and kindle at night.

Well in less than two weeks all that has changed.  And I credit Bizz for my stress reduction (and an occasional increase when he decides to remove my bed spread so he can curl up on the cuddly blanket underneath).  So how has Bizz changed me and how can a dog lower your stress level?

1.  Exercise - Bizz is a walker.  We now do 3-5 miles a day together - we did 1.5 miles this morning, will do another mile early afternoon and another 1.5 this evening.  And he loves it.   All that walking relaxes me as well - my sister, Lynne, said it well when she said that walking a dog is almost like meditation.  And while sometimes I just talk to Bizz, I can also put on a headset and talk on the phone while we walk and it's hard to get stressed on a call when you are also exercising.  AJ Jacobs, one of my favorite writers, wrote the book Drop Dead Healthy and talked about how he built a treadmill desk.  Definitely a great book and an inspiration on how humans need more walking.

2.  Getting out in the sunshine.  I must admit - I have not been the best about going outside - while I'm not allergic to Bizz I am to all the trees that are blooming.  But Vitamin D, which the body can produce naturally from being in the sun, is sorely lacking in many of us and the deficiency can lead to a host of illnesses.  I stopped taking Vitamin D on Monday because I now get sunshine every day on our walks.  Does getting out in nature and the sunshine reduce stress?  I can't be sure but I find myself enchanted by the diversity of flowers on our walks and come home with a mind at peace and full of beauty.

3.  Sleep - lack of sleep has been shown to tie directly to weight gain and diabetes.  Well I may have lacked it before but Bizz has me on a schedule.  We get up every morning between 6-7 to hit the back yard so he can pee.  Then we come in and get a few minutes of cuddling in.  Then breakfast, dress and off on our first walk.  Our last walk ends between 8 and 9 unless we had a huge walk like at the Bay - then we just do a short one.  We then have an hour of cuddle time on the couch and I'm in bed by 10, lights out by 10:30.  For the first time I'm getting 8 hours a night. I used to be one of those people who's brain couldn't turn off - now i conk out within 15 minutes.  And the next day we do the whole cycle again.  I used to be a 5 hour a night person, now I'm at 8 easily.

4. Cuddling - Bizzy is very cuddly - he loves physical contact.  So each night we spend an hour just relaxing with me stroking his back.  It soothes him and helps him sleep and it really soothes me.  I had cats as a child and loved to pat them. But Bizz is like fluffy cotton - soft and smooth - and he is a pleasure to pat. 

Daily Update:  So I did 2.5 miles with Bizz yesterday. I had eye doctors appointments so Marina covered me for the noon walk.  So Bizz got at least 3.5 miles in yesterday. 


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