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Learning About Diabetes and Exercise in Children

Can children get exercise if they have diabetes?

It's important for children with diabetes to be physically active. Encourage your child to find an activity they enjoy doing. Your child can still play sports, run on the playground, ride bikes, swim—just like other kids. It just takes a little more planning and preparing than it did before.

How can getting exercise help children?

Kids use the sugar they get from food to give them energy. Getting exercise and being physically active helps their bodies use up extra energy. This helps children to manage their blood sugar.

Exercise may help children in other ways too. For example, it may help to make their hearts, muscles, and bones stronger. Some kids may need to take less insulin when they exercise. Talk to your doctor or diabetes care team about this.

Exercise can make children feel stronger and happier. It can help them relax and sleep better. And it gives them confidence in other things they do.

How can you help your child exercise safely?

Here are some things you can do to help your child exercise safely.

  • Talk with your child's gym teacher and coaches about how exercise affects blood sugar.

    Teachers and coaches may not know the signs of sudden high or low blood sugar. You might need to explain what symptoms your child may have and how to deal with them.

  • Talk with your child's doctor or diabetes care team to see if it makes sense to lower the insulin dose that your child takes before exercise.
  • Have your child always wear a medical bracelet or necklace.

    You can buy these at most drugstores. Or try a temporary medical ID tattoo. All of these products can help medical personnel give the right care.

  • Do some pre-exercise planning.

    Make a checklist that you and your child can follow. Make sure that your child uses it with the gym teacher or coach too.

  • Check your child's blood sugar level before, during, and after exercise.
    • Make sure that blood sugar is in your child's target range. And make sure that there are no ketones.
    • Don't let your child exercise if the blood sugar is over 14.0 mmol/L and ketones are present.
    • If your child's blood sugar is over 14.0 mmol/L and there are no ketones before exercise, it is safe to exercise. Your child may need to drink more fluids. Check the blood sugar during and after the activity. If your child’s blood sugar is below 4.0 mmol/L before exercise, give your child glucose tablets or quick sugar foods and a carbohydrate snack for the low blood sugar.
  • Inject insulin before exercise in a site other than the parts of the body your child will be using during exercise.

    For example, if your child will be running, don't inject it in the leg.

  • Consider giving your child a carbohydrate snack if your child's blood sugar is below the target range before exercise.

    If your child will be exercising very hard and for longer than 30 minutes, you may want to give another snack. Talk to your doctor or diabetes care team about snacks during exercise.

  • Make sure your child drinks plenty of water.

    This helps to avoid dehydration. (You can also use sports drinks to give your child needed fluids and sugar.)

  • Talk to your doctor about having glucagon on hand.

    It can be used to raise your child's blood sugar if it's very low.

  • Watch for symptoms of low blood sugar for 12 hours after exercise.

    This is especially important to do if it's a new activity.

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