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Staying Active With Type 1 Diabetes

Staying Active is Key to Good Diabetes Management


Updated June 17, 2011

Staying Active With Type 1 Diabetes

Regular activity helps control blood sugar

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Staying active with type 1 is not only good for you, but but essential for effective diabetes management. In addition to the benefits that everyone receives, such as a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, stronger bones and muscles, and greater endurance, regular exercise can also help you control your blood glucose.

Planning For Exercise

Before you start any type of exercise program, it’s always wise to talk with your healthcare provider to assess the type and amount of physical activity that is right for you. Once you’ve established that, always check your blood glucose before you exercise. Physical activity works in a similar way that insulin does to lower blood sugar. Checking your blood before you exercise is your best way to prevent a sudden drop in blood glucose.

Follow these guidelines once you know your glucose level:

  • If your blood sugar level is below 100 mg/dl, eat a light snack before you begin your activity.
  • If your blood glucose is above 250 mg/dl, you should consider not engaging in the activity. When your glucose level is high, exercise can actually cause it to go higher.

While You Exercise

Because you are taking insulin, blood sugar levels can drop quickly once exercise begins. To be prepared, you should always carry some type of fast-acting sugar, such as glucose tablets, a non-diet soft drink or fruit juice with you in case you feel lightheaded, dizzy or weak, which are signs of low blood sugar. Depending on how long or vigorous your activity, you may need to stop periodically to check your glucose. Though it may seem like a hassle at the time to interrupt your activity, it is well worth the minute it takes to avoid a hypoglycemic reaction.

Following Your Activity

You should again check your blood sugar immediately after your activity. It’s important to remember that vigorous exercise can continue to have a lowering affect on your blood sugar for several hours after you’ve finished.

Troubleshooting Highs And Lows

Since every person with type 1 will respond somewhat differently to their exercise and insulin routine, it might be helpful to record the following after each activity session:

  • Type of activity
  • Amount of time you spent being active
  • Time and amount of your last insulin dose
  • Glucose reading before and after activity
  • Type and amount of snack eaten before, during and after activity

This information can greatly help your healthcare provider make any needed adjustments to your insulin dosage and meal plan so that you can continue to exercise with confidence. With time, you will learn how your body responds and be able to take the necessary precautions to avoid rapid blood sugar swings during and following exercise.

Choosing An Activity That Is Right For You

Whatever activity you choose, make sure you enjoy doing it. Nothing kills motivation faster than pushing yourself to do something you don’t like or can’t do adequately.

If you are just starting an exercise program, gradually increase your activity from 5-10 minutes per day up to an optimal goal of 30 minutes per day most days of the week. You can even divide the 30 minutes of total time into smaller segments of activity throughout the day.

The best activities for managing your glucose are calorie-burning aerobic ones that get your heart working. These include:

But don’t limit yourself to the more traditional types of exercise. Raking leaves, washing the car and choosing to take the stairs versus the elevator all count as physical activity that you can benefit from. What’s important is that you get your body moving and do it on a regular basis.


Physical Activity. American Diabetes Association. Accessed: August 18, 2008. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/prevention/checkup-america/activity.html

What I need to know about Physical Activity and Diabetes. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Accessed: August 18, 2008. http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/physical_ez/index.htm

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