Exercise & Type 1
Regardless of the type of diabetes you have, regular physical activity is important for your overall health and wellness. With type 1, it’s very important to balance your insulin doses with the food you eat and the activity that you do–even when you are doing house or yard work.
Planning ahead and knowing how your blood sugar and body respond to exercise can help you keep your blood sugar from going too low or too high.
Your blood sugar response to exercise will vary depending on:
- your blood sugar level before you start
- the intensity of the activity
- the length of time you are active
- the changes you’ve made to insulin doses
Sometimes people experience a drop in blood sugar during or after exercise, so it is very important to check your blood sugar, plan ahead, and be prepared to treat hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
To learn how different types of activity affect you, you should check your blood sugar before, during, and after an exercise session. Put a trial and error system into place. For example, increased activity may mean that you need to lower your insulin dose or eat some extra carbs before exercising to keep your blood sugar in a safe range. Some activities may cause your blood sugar to drop quickly while others do not.
If your blood sugar is trending down before a workout, have a pre-exercise snack. Always carry a carbohydrate food or drink (like juice or glucose tabs) that will quickly raise your blood sugar. It may take a while to figure out what works best for you.
If your blood sugar level is less than 100 mg/dl before you start your activity, try having a small carbohydrate snack (about 15 grams) to increase your blood sugar and reduce your risk for hypoglycemia. This is especially important if you took insulin recently and if you will be exercising for longer than 30 minutes.
If you use an insulin pump, you may be able to avoid adding an extra snack by lowering your basal insulin rate during the activity. And if you have repeated problems with your blood sugar dropping during or after exercise, consult your doctor.
When your blood sugar is high …
Blood sugar can also run high during or after exercise, particularly when you do a high-intensity exercise that increases your stress hormone (i.e., glucose-raising hormone) levels.
- If your blood sugar 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.
Exercise is important for overall fitness, but so is limiting the amount of time sitting. Kids and adults these days tend to spend a lot of time in front of various screens—television, computers, video games, tablets, smart phones, etc. Too much screen time is associated with higher blood sugar levels, while physical activity is linked to lower A1Cs and healthier hearts. ADA's Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes recommend breaking up time sitting by walking, leg extensions, or overhead arm stretches every 30 minutes.
Kids: spontaneous activity and blood sugar
The tricky part about exercise in children of all ages is that it is often unplanned and spontaneous. Will your child come home from school today and do homework for an hour or want to bike with friends for an hour? Sometimes you don’t know if your child is going to run around for 15 minutes, or run around for an hour and need extra carbs to prevent a low.
Be prepared to give 5–15 grams of carb, depending on the child’s age and size, for every 30 minutes of sustained activity and monitor sugar levels frequently.
Infants and children
No matter the age, you can help children stay active. For example, encouraging infants in active play to explore movement and their surroundings supports physical and mental development. For toddlers, 30 minutes or more of physical activity a day with no more than 60 minutes of sitting at a time will help promote motor skills and muscular development.
For preschoolers: At least 60 minutes activity per day
- Give your child 5–15 grams of carbohydrates for every 30 minutes of activity, depending on initial blood sugar levels and the intensity of the exercise.
- Check pre-exercise blood sugar levels in active children since a young child may not be able to verbalize the symptoms of a low.
- Starting exercise with blood sugar in the 150–200 mg/dL range may help lower the risk of hypoglycemia in toddlers.
- Paying attention to your child’s blood sugar levels before and after exercise will help
Young children and adolescents
Children and adolescents should have at least 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day.
- Include aerobic activities such as running, swimming, biking.
- Anaerobic exercises consists of short exertion, high-intensity movements, such as jumping and sprinting.
- Include strength training, such as yoga, weights, and other activities.
Your healthcare team’s role
Your healthcare team can help you find the balance between activity, food, and insulin. When testing on your own to learn about your reaction to different activities, keep a record of your activity and your numbers. Your healthcare team can use that data to suggest adjustments and refine your plan. If you are having chronic lows or highs, they may need to alter your insulin dose or make a change in your meal plan.