Admit it—the health benefits of physical activity are pretty hard to ignore. From weight loss to boosting your mood, exercise is an important part of any healthy lifestyle. This is especially true for people with diabetes, regardless of what type.
People with type 1 diabetes, however, may have fears of experiencing hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) while exercising regularly. It’s true that physical activity requires extra care, but with the right support and knowledge, people with type 1 can achieve the same benefits from exercise as anyone else and can even lower their risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other diabetes complications.
With type 1 diabetes, it’s very important to balance your insulin doses with the food you eat and the activity that you do—even if it’s something as simple as mopping the floors or washing the car. Knowing your body’s typical blood glucose response to exercise can help keep your levels from going too low or too high.
Everyone who uses insulin should be prepared to treat hypoglycemia during physical activity, but people with type 1 diabetes are at the highest risk for low blood glucose during exercise.
Whether or not your blood glucose will drop from exercise depends on your level before starting the activity, the intensity of the activity, how long you exercise and any changes you’ve made to your insulin doses.
Keep these tips in mind:
- It’s important to be prepared to treat low blood glucose during or after exercise. To learn how different types of activity affect you, frequently check your blood glucose before, during and after an exercise session.
- Create a trial and error system. For example, increased activity may mean that you need to lower your insulin dose or eat some extra carbohydrates before exercising to keep your blood glucose in a safe range. Some activities may cause your blood glucose to drop quickly, while others do not.
- If your blood glucose levels are trending down or less than 100 mg/dl before a workout, have a pre-exercise snack. Always carry a carbohydrate-containing food or drink (like juice or glucose tabs) that will quickly raise your blood glucose. This is especially important if you anticipate that your body’s circulating insulin levels will be higher during the time you exercise and if you will be exercising for longer than 30 minutes.
- If you use an insulin pump, you may be able to skip the extra snack by lowering your basal insulin rate during the activity.
If you experience hypoglycemia during or after exercise, treat it immediately. To continue your workout, you will usually need to take a break to treat your low blood glucose, depending on the activity you’re doing and how much insulin you have circulating in your bloodstream. If you do stop exercising, check to make sure your blood glucose has come back up above 100 mg/dl before resuming.
When Your Blood Glucose is High
Believe it or not (and you will if you’ve experienced it!), your blood glucose can also run high during or after exercise, particularly when you perform a high-intensity activity that increases your stress hormone levels.
If your blood glucose is high before starting exercise, check your blood or urine for ketones. If you test positive for ketones, avoid vigorous activity. If you do not have ketones in your blood or urine and you feel well, it should be fine to exercise.
- Talk with your health care team before beginning any exercise program. They can tell you what exercises will be safest for you and can help you find the balance between activity, food and insulin.
- Keep a record of your activities and your blood glucose numbers to show your health care team. This will help them suggest adjustments and refine your plan.
- Talk to your doctor if you have repeated problems with your blood glucose dropping during or after exercise.
- If you are having chronic lows or highs, your diabetes care team may need to alter your insulin dose or make a change in your meal plan.
Do you have type 1 diabetes? Tell us your exercise tips in the comments below!