Staying active with Type 1 diabetes can help in lowering the risk of diabetes-related complications while improving the overall quality of life. Type 1 diabetes is a condition where the pancreas is unable to produce insulin, a hormone regulating glucose levels, where the doctor may prescribe insulin to manage sugar levels.

However, strenuous activities need more glucose and thus fluctuating its level. It is thus recommended to consult your doctor to understand the exercise goal and how to prevent complications related to it.

Type 1 Diabetes and Exercise Guidelines

According to Diabetes Canada, adults with Type 1 diabetes should carry out at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise (moderate to vigorous intensity) per week. Some examples include cycling, dancing, swimming, jogging, and dancing.

Diabetes Canada also encourages individuals with Type 1 diabetes to aim for two or three sessions of resistance training per week. Resistance activities involve muscle-strengthening exercises such as resistance band exercise, weight-lifting, and body-weight exercises.

Different workouts influence blood glucose in different ways, depending on intensity, type, and duration of exercises. For instance, blood sugar is likely to drop with aerobic exercises. The greater the duration of the session, the greater will be the drop. According to studies, adding high-intensity intervals or short sprints to aerobic exercise helps in lowering sugar levels. Studies also suggest that carrying out resistance activities before aerobic exercise could keep glucose levels steady.

It is important to note that regardless of the type of exercise, it is vital to check the blood glucose level before, during, and after the workout. Planning your insulin and food intake with exercise will help in maintaining sugar levels within the normal range.

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Type 1 Diabetes and Exercise Risks

Workouts may result in high or low blood sugar levels.

High Blood Sugar Levels

Majority of times, blood sugar drops after exercising. However, intense and short bouts of activity may increase the blood sugar level as well. This effect is due to the stress hormone released by the body during a high-intensity workout.

To prevent high sugar levels, check sugar levels before, during, and after the workout. Drink plenty of water as dehydration may also intensify blood sugar concentration. To manage the high sugar level, your doctor may advise rapid-acting insulin to maintain levels within normal range. If blood sugar is higher than 250 mg/dL, ketones should be measured in blood or urine. In case ketone is higher, consult your doctor immediately.

Low Blood Sugar Levels

During the workout, the body uses glucose from the blood to fuel this activity. It also pulls sugar stored in the liver and muscles. Blood glucose level tends to lower during exercise and continues to drop after exercise as well. If the blood sugar level is lower than 70 mg/dL, it is known as hypoglycemia. Majority of times, low blood glucose level is easily managed by drinking or eating fast-acting carbohydrates. In severe cases, hypoglycemia could be treated with glucagon.

Type 1 Diabetes and Exercise Precautions

To prevent the risk of high or low blood glucose level, you can take the following precautions:

  • Increase carbohydrate intake before and after exercising.
  • Carry out resistance training before aerobic activities.
  • Reduce basal or bolus insulin dose.
  • Monitor blood sugar level before and after the workout. For an extended workout, check sugar level every 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Pay attention to the presence of symptoms of hypoglycemia.
  • Avoid working out two hours before going to bed.
  • Prevent exercising in case of infection, or if you are sick.
  • Wear MedicAlert®, comfortable clothes, and proper-fitting shoes while exercising.
  • Keep fast-acting carbohydrate source handy to tackle hypoglycemia that may develop during exercise.
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To manage low blood sugar level, have 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates, such as:

  • ½ cup of non-diet soft drink or fruit juice
  • Glucose gel or glucose tablets
  • One tablespoon of sugar, dissolved in water
  • One tablespoon of corn or honey syrup
  • A few gumdrops or hard candies

Of note, check sugar levels after 15 minutes of taking carbohydrate source. If it is still below 70 mg/dL, drink or eat another 15 grams of fast-acting carbs.

Exercise and Insulin

Insulin is used to manage most cases of Type 1 diabetes. When insulin is taken, it signals cells in the liver, muscle, and fat to pull off glucose from the blood. This prevents blood glucose level from getting too high after eating. Taking a higher dose of insulin can cause hypoglycemia. Workout further lowers sugar level, and thus it is important to coordinate it with insulin. To prevent abnormal sugar level, the diabetes educator or doctor might advise lowering the insulin intake on days you work out.

Final Thoughts

Exercise helps to manage glucose levels and avoid complications with Type 1 diabetes, improving the overall quality of life. However, exercise may increase the risk of high or low blood glucose levels. To prevent this, follow the instructions and take insulin as prescribed by the doctor. It may take some time to understand how your body responds to exercise routine and insulin intake. Keep records of food intake, activities, insulin intake, and blood sugar to help you manage Type 1 diabetes.

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