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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 do the same activities that other kids do. 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 means that sugar doesn't build up in their blood. Controlling their blood sugar helps children control their diabetes.

Exercise may help children in other ways too. For example, it may help to make their hearts, muscles, and bones stronger. Some kids who get enough exercise are able to take less medicine. Talk to your doctor 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 to exercise safely?

  • Talk with your child's gym teacher and coaches about how exercise affects blood sugar. They 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 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 pharmacies. 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 his or her coach, too.
    • Do not let your child exercise if his or her blood sugar is over 14.0 mmol/L and ketones are present.
    • If your child's blood sugar is over 14.0 mmol/L before exercise, he or she may need to drink more fluids. Check your child's blood sugar during the activity. Make sure that the level is going down.
    • Check your child's blood sugar level before, during, and after exercise. Make sure that blood sugar is in the child's target range. And make sure that there are no ketones.
    • 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.
    • If your child's blood sugar is below the target range before exercise, consider giving your child 15 grams of carbohydrate from a quick-sugar food. These foods include glucose tablets, hard candy, and fruit juice. If your child will be exercising very hard and for longer than 30 minutes, you may want to give another 15 grams of carbohydrate from a quick-sugar food. Younger children may need less carbohydrate from quick-sugar foods.
    • 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 is very low.
    • Watch for symptoms of low blood sugar for 12 hours after exercise, especially if it is a new activity.

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