Beyond Blood Sugar: How My Smartwatch Helps Me Manage My Diabetes

Sure, my smartwatch allows me to see my blood sugar levels without pricking my finger a million times a day but there are a few other reasons I couldn't live without this technology.

man wearing smart watchAt the risk of sounding like an advertisement for Apple, the smartwatch truly does helps me with my diabetes management and my overall health. (Photo: Unsplash, Luke Chesser)

Had today’s technology been available when I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 2004, I would have been able to have a more in-depth, all-encompassing look at my overall health.

When I was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in April 2004, there was not nearly as much technology available as there is today. Because of this, I had to learn how to count carbs, calculate a bolus for my meal, a bolus for my correction and do the math for the active insulin on board. Doing these things by hand helped me fully understand how diabetes, insulin, exercise, food and every other aspect of living with diabetes all worked together.

Flash forward to 2019 and the amount of technology that exists is almost unlimited. We now have insulin pumps (which were available in 2004 as well) that calculate all boluses for you. These insulin pumps can also be integrated with continuous glucose monitoring systems that can check your blood glucose levels every 5 minutes automatically and determine if you require more, or less, insulin at any given moment throughout the day.

Once Apple released their Apple Watch (which costs approximately $300; competitors are less), my diabetes management changed once again. And this time, it was a change for the better. I currently wear an Apple Watch every day of my life. Whether I am just sitting at a desk all day working or I am walking around a zoo or park with my family, I am wearing it. It is an integral part of my diabetes management system at this point.

How does a smartwatch help with my diabetes management you may ask? Let’s talk about a few features that I utilize and have on my watch face at all times. I primarily use the fitness tracker, heart rate monitor and breathing app that all come free-of-charge with the smartwatch. 

It Keeps Me Moving

One aspect of my diabetes management that is important to overall health is exercising. I am the first person to admit, that I'm not much of a gym rat. In fact, I don't like going to the gym at all but I do force myself to get there as much as I can because I know moving is good for my blood sugar.

On certain days, when I know I won't be able to make it there, I work to get multiple walks in. Having the fitness tracker on my watch allows me to easily, and quickly, see how many miles I have walked, how many calories burned, and how close to my daily goal I am. This helps me quickly determine if I need to go on another walk, or if I have met my goals.

The Value of Heart Rate Info 

heart rate monitor appHere's what my heart rate looks like on my smartwatch face.

The reason why I have my heart rate displayed on my Apple Watch face is because I have a history of having higher than normal heart rates. This stems from being overweight, having anxiety and sometimes just going too hard and not knowing when to stop.

That’s exactly why this tool helps me. It will alert me of when my heart rate has been a certain level for too long. Once this happens, I know that it is time to sitdown, relax and do a few breathing exercises or maybe just have a glass of water.

Being able to sync this heart rate data with my insulin dosages, my blood sugar levels from my CGM—along with my food intake—allows my doctors to fully understand what is happening in my body at all times. It's helpful to know,  for example if certain foods increase my heart rate. Or, to see patterns during the day if/when my heart rate rises? All of these factors are taken into consideration by medical team. Without the Apple Watch, I would not have as much data to provide to my medical team.

As someone who lives with anxiety on a daily basis, the heart rate tool inside the Apple Watch has saved me from hundreds of potential panic attacks. Typically, when I initially have that feeling of my heart dropping and a palpitation of some sort, I know the anxiety is setting in. At this point, this is when my heart rate tends to skyrocket. However, there are times where my heart rate may be increasing before I even know it and that’s where the Apple Watch comes in to play and saves me.

As soon as I feel the vibration on my wrist and look down to see a higher than normal heart rate, I know that I need to immediately sit down and start doing my breathing exercises. This is where another app on my Apple Watch is then utilized.

Warding Off Panic Attacks
Over the years I have used a few different apps (all free) to help me with breathing exercises at times when my heart rate increases due to the onset of a panic attack from my anxiety. I can easily access breathing and meditation apps on my Apple Watch, so I don’t even have to pull out my phone or anything at all. The Apple Watch has a default breathing app that I tend to use most often because I know that I just need to breathe for about 30 seconds and focus on my breathing, in and out.

chris showing off his smartwatchSeeing my blood glucose numbers in real time goes a long way toward calming my diabetes-related anxiety.

I prefer this method over pulling out my phone and utilizing headphones or the full app because unlocking my phone and seeing my home screen on my phone will ultimately lead to additional anxiety because of the amount of notifications or to dos that I see on the phone screen immediately upon opening it.

Getting Real-Time Numbers Makes a Difference

Lastly, and probably the most important to me, is having my real-time blood glucose levels displayed on my watch. I currently wear a Dexcom G6 Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) and I have it paired with my Apple Watch. This means that at any time, I can look down at my watch and see what my blood glucose level is. Not only that, I can see an arrow that points either straight up, diagonally up, straight down, or diagonally down. It also will notify me with a vibration on my wrist if my blood glucose levels are too high or too low.

This is an obvious bonus to my diabetes management. Instead of having to take out my meter, or even my phone or CGM receiver, I can quickly look at my watch in the middle of a meeting, or movie theatre, dinner table, or anywhere. If my blood sugar is high, I don’t have to wait until the meeting is over to dose a correction bolus, I can do it right then and there because my Apple Watch notified me of a high blood sugar. The same goes if my blood glucose levels are going low. I can step out of a meeting to drink juice if needed.

Since purchasing an Apple Watch a few years ago, my diabetes management has become a lot easier. It is still a tough job to do 24/7/365 but utilizing the available technology has proven well worth it for me. My medical team has been able to see how different aspects of my life affect one another. For example, without my Apple Watch, comparing my heart rate to my food intake and current blood sugar levels would not be possible.


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