Exercise with type 1 diabetes

Exercise is a vitally important part of diabetes maintenance, however, it must be done with care. The diabetic who has successfully managed to control their diabetes through diet and Insulin, can further benefit from an active lifestyle because exercise helps with circulation, cardiovascular and lung functions. All people who exercise experience a boost in energy levels and have a better time controlling their weight.

A word of caution though. Unless the Blood glucose levels of the diabetic is under control, meaning there is a blood glucose reading consistently between 100-200 mg/dl about 30 to 60 minutes after meals, the diabetic could be causing more damage than doing good by exercising.

How can exercise possibly be bad? Simple. Like insulin, exercise helps to lower blood glucose levels because your muscles use glucose for energy. Having a level that is below 100 mg/dl before exercise can be as dangerous as exercising when it is too high. A blood glucose level of 250 mg/dl or more, or the presence of ketones in urine can be dangerous as well.

Unless blood glucose levels are closely monitored, a diabetic may find themselves exercising during a time when they experience a spike or a dip in blood glucose.

This is sometimes daunting for the diabetic who enjoys an active lifestyle. That doesn't mean that the Type 1 diabetic cannot exercise. It just means that more care and planning must be taken to ensure that there are no complications associated with exercise. If the diabetic is in good blood glucose control consistently, there is no reason to restrict activity at all. Daily athletics as well as rigorous exercise can help circulation and are recommended. However, even with good blood glucose control, constant monitoring must be done to ensure levels do not dip or spike.

For instance, if a Type 1 diabetic is in blood glucose control and a fasting blood glucose level is close to 100 mg/dl or lower, the diabetic needs to eat additional Carbohydrate prior to exercise to help raise blood glucose levels to offset blood glucose that will be burned during exercise. This will help prevent hypoglycemia afterward. After rigorous exercise, blood glucose should be checked again.

If blood glucose levels are higher than 250 mg/dl, exercise should be avoided until levels have decreased.

Tips for the active diabetic:
  • Get to know your body by monitoring your blood sugar levels consistently.
  • Make sure you schedule activities in accordance with your insulin checks and eating schedule. Exercising after you've gone too long without eating can be problematic and lead to hypoglycemia or worse, a diabetic coma.
  • Make sure carbohydrate foods are available to you for quick consumption during and after excessive exercise.
  • Restrict your physical activity to 40 minutes or less to ensure you do not become hypoglycemic.
  • If you are just starting an exercise program after being inactive, consult your doctor to make sure the activity you choose is one that won't present problems given your current levels.
  • Work with your doctor to set up an activity schedule. You may need to wait a while after exercise before taking insulin to prevent a sudden drop in levels.
  • Take care of your feet by examining them before and after exercise. Use a good fitting sneaker and smooth socks to prevent abrasions. If you have any calluses or cuts, attend to them immediately.
  • Never exercise without your medical tag or without others knowing you are diabetic. For instance, if you're playing a sport, make sure team members or coaches know about your diabetes and how to recognize signs you may be in trouble.
  • Drink plenty of fluids while you exercise. Not only do you need to hydrate yourself, but you will be burning lots of glucose if you are doing heavy activity and you'll need to replace that with a carbohydrate drink, not water or diet drinks.
  • Make it a habit to pack glucose tablets or hard candy in your gym bag so you'll have it on hand if you suddenly need it.
  • Pay attention to the warning signs that you're over doing it. If you become dizzy, nauseous, feel faint, have chest pains or pains under your armpit, stop your activity immediately. Wait 15 minutes to see if you feel better. If you don't, call your doctor.
  • Keep in mind that the effects of exercise won't happen right away. Hypoglycemia is more likely to occur 4-6 hours after exercise than immediately following exercise, giving Type 1 diabetics a false sense of security. This is why monitoring of blood sugar levels is so important. Don't let the fear of over doing stop you from exercise.
Exercise is a wonderful way to keep your body in shape and your diabetes under control as long as you monitor yourself carefully.