One in three Americans has diabetes or prediabetes. You would think that finding a fitness professional—a personal trainer, physical therapist, or other allied fitness and health trainer—that knows enough about diabetes to be helpful wouldn’t be that hard, right? Think again.
Why does it matter whether your trainer knows about diabetes? Well, if you had severe arthritis in your knees, you’d want a trainer who knows enough to avoid making you do certain activities that might be injury-inducing (burpees come to mind). The same goes if you have diabetes. Over the years, I have just heard of too many trainers ending up getting their clients injured because they didn’t understand that diabetes makes people more prone to overuse injuries, or that certain medications increase the risk for activity-associated hypoglycemia, or that most people with type 2 diabetes who are overweight and sedentary are going to be demotivated or injured by being forced to train like they do on “The Biggest Loser” (even though trainers shouting at people makes for good reality TV).
Many professional fitness organizations certify trainers and other fitness professionals, including the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Council on Exercise (ACE), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), and at least 30 other groups that offer certifications for personal trainers, health coaches, and other allied professions. The certification requirements vary widely by organization, however, and most (but not all) require continuing education to maintain the certification. Some offer full training courses, while others barely meet minimal standards. The premier certifying organizations are ACSM and ACE at present.
One problem is that it’s not easy to identity certified fitness professionals who are knowledgeable about working with people with diabetes (all types and ages). What’s more, very few diabetes training programs are available for fitness professionals, and most trainers are more interested in learning more about training techniques that they can use in their prescribed workouts than chronic diseases. I personally have been on a crusade for the past two years trying to offer expert training for fitness professionals about working with diabetic clients. I finally got a program done for ACSM online as of February 2017 and will shortly have programs offered through ACE and others as well (check on Diabetes Motion Academy for these and other programs).
One bright note is the Medical Fitness Network (MFN), a free online resource directory for consumers to locate fitness and allied healthcare professionals who have a background in and provide services for those with chronic disease, medical conditions, disabilities and women's health issues. MFN donates its service as a database management company to the top medical and health organizations who do not offer resources for locating these professionals. Fitness and healthcare professionals can join to increase their online exposure and credibility for a modest annual fee. It is my hope that some of the larger fitness organizations (like ACSM) will also soon see the value of making diabetes-savvy fitness professionals easier for consumers to find—for the benefit of everyone!