Exercising with Type 1 Diabetes can be challenging but not Impossible!

4 tips you didn’t know!

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Exercising with type 1 diabetes (T1D) can be challenging, but not impossible. With T1D, you have to consider low and high blood sugars in the middle of a walk, yoga, spinning class, tai chi, or even strength-training. As I interviewed different people with T1D and asked them how they balance their blood sugar while working out, I noticed the following similarities:

1. Understanding how different workout routines can affect your blood sugar

Not all exercise is the same, it’s important to understand what can make your blood sugar dip. For example, jogging and strength-training will both have very different impacts on your blood sugar, even though your heart rate may rise during both.

Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise uses glucose primarily for fuel. This means that jogging, running, the elliptical, power-walking, cycling, power yoga, and even gardening—anything that raises your heart rate for an extended period of time—will lower your blood sugar.

Anaerobic activity, like strength training, sprinting, interval, or circuit training—during which your heart rate goes up, then down, up, then down, and muscle is being broken down—is going to burn more fat for fuel during the activity, but may increase your sensitivity to insulin later in the day while it works to repair and build those muscles. It’s also very common to see your blood sugar rise during this type of exercise.

2. Repetitiveness will be your best friend

When you’re starting a new form of exercise and want to know how that workout is going to impact your body on a regular day with a “regular” blood sugar, be sure to eat a meal of which you already know the carbohydrate count, and don’t start your workout with an out-of-range blood sugar.

Make sure your workout, in the beginning, is similar, same routine and same time of day. The more variables you can control, the better chances of consistent blood sugar readings.

3. Write it Down!

Once you find your groove and the routine you love, write down the following:

Time of day you exercised
Blood sugar before you worked out
What did you eat before your workout
Did you take insulin
Type of exercises performed
Time for each segment of workout routine
Blood sugar ½ way thru the routine
Blood sugar at the end of your workout

Common Questions you might have

a. What happens if my blood sugar was too high after?
Great question! If your blood sugar is high, then you know you either didn’t need to cut back on your insulin dose for the food you ate, or you didn’t need the extra boost of glucose you purposefully consumed for your workout.

b. My blood sugar was too low, what do I do now?
If you’re low, then you know you can either cut back on your insulin dosing next time (through basal or bolus insulin) or you can consume more carbohydrates uncovered by insulin.

The goal is to perform the exact same experiment again, adjusted based on the information you gained from your first experiment, and keep repeating until you find the right balance!

4. Secret Tip: Try Exercising First Thing in the Morning, on an Empty Stomach

After reading Dealing with Diabetes Burnout, I learned that Bodybuilders are constantly trying to burn as much body fat as possible without burning up muscle. Based on normal human physiology that exercising first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, with an in-range
blood sugar is the easiest time of day to keep your blood sugar from dropping because your body is primed to burn fat for fuel instead of glucose. This is because you have been fasting all night long, and your body’s backup stores of glucose have been used for energy while you were sleeping, and so your body uses fat for fuel instead.

It’s just science. That’s all. Take the time to learn and experiment, remembering that an unexpectedly high or low can simply mean there’s something about exercise and the human body that you haven’t learned quite yet.

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