Juggling Exercise with Type 1 Diabetes

Smiling woman with carrotAdmit 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.

Preventing Lows

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.

More Tips

  • 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!

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This entry was posted in Complications, Food and Fitness, Life with Diabetes, Stop Diabetes, Talking Type 1, Tips and ideas and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Juggling Exercise with Type 1 Diabetes

  1. Shawn says:

    Test often and bring plenty of snacks to use for exercise snacks. Be prepared for anything, most times she goes low during exercise and then she will go high.

  2. Pingback: DiabetesStopsHere – Juggling Exercise with Type 1 Diabetes

  3. Sean Dudayev says:

    Good post, im always trying to get my uncle to exercise but he always complains of exhaustion, thanks for the tips.

  4. Diabetes is very here in the Philippines and both of my parents have them. My father is very conscious about his health now. He takes a walk every morning and lifts weight at home. On the other hand, my mother isn’t. I always tried to convince her to change her lifestyle but she always has alibis.

  5. LADALibrarian says:

    Also be sure to watch for delayed hypos at night following a period of extended exercise. My first experience with a delayed hypo was moving my son into a 6th floor walk up apartment in Manhattan. I had great control during the day, but a big drop in the middle of the night. ( My CGM got me up.)

  6. Denise says:

    Being a brittle diabetic for 25 years I’ve struggled with maintaining a good glucose reading while exercising. While it can be frustrating it doesn’t deter me from spending at least an hour to an hour and a half a day making sure that I take care of myself by exercising regularly and adjusting either my pump or taking in more carbs. I do the best I can and don’t let it get me down. I agree it’s a matter of keeping a journal and seeing a pattern if lows/highs when I exercise vigorously with cycling zunba or any other high intense activity That can bring my blood sugars down rapidly. Having an insulin pump that I can adjust the basal rate has been an amazing blessing in my life. God speed go strong face yhe challenges and persevere . It’s all worth it !

  7. Louise says:

    For some it is really difficult to maintain a healthy balance during exercise. I find that for my dad it’s in the evening where he really struggles. He wakes often in the night having a hypo. He tends to find this more likely in the summer because the heat has made him lose fluids, therefore we get him eating loads during the summer months because he has a very active job.

  8. Sarah says:

    Also avoid ANY insulin on board before exercising. And cut basal down to zero well before exercising if it will be strenuous.

    New types of exercise also lowers BG more than what your body is used to doing.

    Yesterday I cross-country skied (skate-skied, which is strenuous) for 30 minutes and my BG went from 259 to 82, per both meter and cgm. Very frustrating! I already do these tips, and more. But if I do strenuous exercise, I have to start with semi-high BG since I drop so much so quickly, and I like to ski/hike/etc. for hours if possible. Obviously I always bring food. But it is not easy to manage this, even after 17 years of practice and regular exercise.

    I also tend to rise post-exercise, possibly due to lowering basal in advance, but I have to if I don’t want to go too low during exercise. So I just bolus after I am done, even if I don’t eat.

    Anyhow it takes a lot of trial and error, mostly error.

    • Max says:

      I totally agree. I am a health care professional and being the best education I got for clients I still cannt manage exercise, pump and diabetes.

  9. A. Colibri says:

    very goog.
    thank you for article.
    I got for clients I still cannt manage exercise

  10. Barbara fochtman says:

    Type 1. Always work out vigorously. Suddenly my sugar drops Today from 236 to 51. I know I should eat before but reduced insulin . This has just started

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