Three tips for exercising with type 1 diabetes

Exercise. We know we should do more of it, but exercising and managing blood sugars is a tricky task! Many of us have tried repeatedly to work out, only to get tripped up by our blood sugar over and over again. I'm going to share a few tips that I hope will make exercising with type 1 diabetes a little bit easier, or at the very least, not so complicated.

Tip #1: Experiment and collect information

My friend, Ginger Vieira, recently wrote a great book called Your Diabetes Science Experiment, and experimenting (with good, detailed record keeping) is one key to success in exercising with diabetes. That means testing often and keeping notes. Gathering all of that information is a royal pain, but it's the only way to know how you react to exercise.

Tip #2: Be prepared

With type 1 diabetes we have to be prepared for the worst case scenario. When exercising, the worst case scenario is typically a nasty low blood sugar. It is super important that you have what you need to treat a low, and it's important to have way more than you think you might need.

One key piece that helps a lot in this area (lows while exercising) is that rapid drops in blood sugar while exercising are usually related to IOB (Insulin on Board) from a recent meal or correction bolus. Bolus insulin you take, either via pump or injection, stays active in your body for a number of hours. Keep that in mind as you are planning for your exercise, and if necessary, eat some carbs to compensate.

How much? See tip #1.

Tip #3: Make insulin adjustments

If you are wearing an insulin pump, you can turn down your insulin for exercising. It's important to know that any change you make to your basal insulin doesn't kick in for at least 60-90 minutes. So if you're the type that disconnects your pump right before jumping on the elliptical machine, it's not going to do you any good. In fact, it can raise your blood sugar long after you're done, rather than while you're working out.

If you take shots, you have a little less flexibility. That just means you'll have to compensate with carbohydrates in order to keep your sugars high enough while exercising. I know what you're thinking. Don't worry, the exercise is kicking up your metabolism long after you're done working out, so unless you're eating an unreasonably high amount of stuff before your workout, you'll burn plenty of calories to make it worthwhile. It just feels counter-intuitive.

It's also important to know that certain types of exercise may not require insulin adjustments or extra carbs. Anaerobic weight lifting, for example, typically doesn't drop your blood sugar like a session of cardio or aerobic activity does.

Tip #4: Have Fun! (I couldn't help but throw in an extra one)

If you can find an exercise that is fun, that's a bonus, and will keep you doing it. It may also give you the extra motivation to get through all of the work that diabetes requires in order to exercise safely. Anything you do is going to help you, both with diabetes management and health in general, and you should feel good about that.

About Scott Johnson

Scott was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1980. Since 2004, he has been writing about his successes and struggles with diabetes. Connect with Scott on The Diabetes Collective.


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