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Learning About Type 1 Diabetes and Exercise

Can you exercise if you have Type 1 diabetes?

When you have diabetes, it's important to get regular exercise because it helps control your blood sugar level. You can still play sports, run, ride bikes, go swimming, and do other activities when you have diabetes.

How can exercise help you manage Type 1 diabetes?

Your body turns the food you eat into glucose, a type of sugar. You need this sugar for energy. When you have diabetes, the sugar builds up in your blood. But when you exercise, your body uses sugar. This helps keep it from building up in your blood and results in lower blood sugar and better control of diabetes.

Exercise may help you in other ways too. It can help you reach and stay at a healthy weight. It also helps improve blood pressure and cholesterol, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Exercise can make you feel stronger and happier. It can help you relax and sleep better, and give you confidence in other things you do.

How can you exercise safely?

Before you start a new exercise program, talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about how and when to exercise. You may need to have a medical examination and tests before you begin. Some types of exercise can be harmful if your diabetes is causing other problems, such as problems with your feet. Your doctor can tell you what types of exercise are good choices for you.

These tips can help you exercise safely when you have diabetes.

  • Check your blood sugar before and after you exercise. And be careful about what you eat.
    • If your blood sugar is less than 5.5, eat a carbohydrate snack before you exercise.
    • Be careful when you exercise if your blood sugar is high. Drink plenty of water. High blood sugar can make you dehydrated, causing your blood sugar levels to go even higher. If your blood sugar is over 16.7 and you do not feel well, test for ketones. If you have ketones in your blood or urine, do not exercise.
    • Talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about insulin adjustments for exercise.
  • Don't try to do too much at first. Build up your exercise program bit by bit. Each week, try to do at least 2½ hours of moderate to vigorous activity spread over at least 3 days that are not in a row. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports. Try to include muscle-strengthening exercises 2 times a week and aim for 3 times a week. These exercises include push-ups and weight training. You can also use rubber tubing or stretch bands. You stretch or pull the tubing or band to build muscle strength. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. If you want to exercise more, slowly increase how hard or long you exercise.
  • You may get symptoms of low blood sugar during exercise or up to 48 hours later. Some symptoms of low blood sugar, such as sweating, a fast heartbeat, or feeling tired, can be confused with what can happen any time you exercise. Other symptoms may include feeling anxious, dizzy, weak, or shaky. So it is a good idea to check your blood sugar again.
  • If you are starting a new exercise program or exercised for a longer time, check your blood sugar before bed and in the middle of the night to prevent hypoglycemia.
  • You can treat low blood sugar by eating or drinking something that has 15 grams of carbohydrate. These should be quick-sugar foods. Quick-sugar foods such as glucose tablets, table sugar, honey, fruit juice, regular (not diet) soda pop, or hard candy can help raise blood sugar. Check your blood sugar level again 15 minutes after having a quick-sugar food to make sure your level is getting back to your target range.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after you exercise.
  • Wear medical alert jewellery that says you have diabetes.
  • Pay attention to your body. If you are used to exercise and notice that you can't do as much as usual, talk to your doctor.

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