Exercise your way through type 1 diabetes
Is exercise essential in type 1 diabetes? Can children with type 1 diabetes play like other children of the same age? Parents of children with type 1 diabetes often have such questions in their minds. Yes, exercise and playing with peers are essential for children with type 1 diabetes. This blog will discuss what kind of exercise children and adults with type 1 diabetes can do to maintain normal sugar levels after food and what precautions you need to take when dealing with sugar fluctuations.
The primary cause of diabetes is that the hormone insulin that is produced by the pancreas is either not produced properly or is not utilized by the body correctly. The doctor will be able to help you understand what is the real cause of diabetes after conducting a few sugar tests.
Why is it important to exercise for type 1 Diabetes?
Exercise plays an important role in maintaining glucose levels in type 1 diabetes. The body needs to adjust to the insulin deficiency scenario in the long run in all activities of daily life such as bathing, dressing, eating, going out and playing. Therefore, exercise works as an essential measure of maintaining blood sugar levels and preventing long-term complications. Exercise can result in the following benefits for type 1 diabetes:
- The daily insulin requirement goes down in the long term.
- It reduces the risk of heart-related complications resulting from high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
- Diabetes-related complications like retinopathy, neuropathy and arterial diseases appear less often.
- Acute episodes of low or high blood sugar levels are experienced less often.
- The suggested levels of blood pressure and sugar levels are achieved with less effort.
- Adults with type 1 diabetes have decreased risk of heart attacks, coronary artery disease and stroke.
Before you begin an exercise
There are certain precautions you need to take when beginning exercise for type 1 diabetes. These include:
- An optimal amount of carbohydrates (approx. 15 gm) must be consumed before you begin an exercise session to prevent episodes of hypoglycemia (low sugar level).
- Maintaining adequate hydration before, during and after exercise is a must along with normal sugar levels after food.
- Blood sugar levels need to be monitored with a portable device before, during and after exercise.
- Exercise sessions can be planned anywhere between 20 minutes and longer depending on individual capacity.
- Those on insulin injections and pumps need to maintain a schedule for the dosage to help the body form a routine with food intake and exercise sessions.
- Always have an exercise buddy, caretaker or parents to accompany you during exercise or sports who will help in case of a hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic (high sugar level) crisis. You can carry a blood sugar normal level chart along for reference.
Types of exercise
The American Diabetes Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week or 30 minutes of exercise sessions five days a week for type 1 diabetes. Some of the exercise forms you can include in fitness sessions are:
- Resistance exercises: Use your body weight or external resistance equipment like weights, bands, dumbbells etc. Resistance exercises can be performed 2-3 times a week for adequate recovery.
- Aerobic or endurance exercises: These include exercises of low intensity done for longer periods. Activities like jogging, running, walking, swimming, cycling and hiking, or any sport of choice on alternate days of the week to space it properly with resistance exercise sessions. You may go for testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) if you want to treat low testosterone (T) levels.
What should you do when sugar levels are low?
It is normal for blood sugar levels to drop during and after exercise. But, in a few cases, this may lead to symptoms that may cause discomfort, fainting, dizziness, and disorientation. The caretaker or exercise buddy can immediately make the individual consume some fast-acting and medium-acting carbohydrates foods, for example, fruit juice, milk, bread, potato dishes etc., to get normal sugar levels after food along with fluids to maintain hydration. If your sugar levels do not achieve optimal levels and remain low (below 70mg/dal), even after eating carbohydrates, you should call for medical help at the earliest.
What should you do when sugar levels are high?
In most cases, there is a drop in sugar levels during and after exercise. But, in a few exceptions, there may be a rise in blood sugar levels. You need to take care of yourself in the following ways:
- Check for blood ketone levels in case blood sugar levels are high before or during the exercise. It may need medical attention.
- High blood sugar levels also mean that your hydration level has fallen. Drink lots of fluids every 30 minutes of exercise to prevent hyperglycemia due to dehydration.
- Stress during exercise may cause a spike in blood sugar levels during exercise. You need to change the type of exercise in case of an intense workout.
- A temporary rise in blood sugar level may also be managed with an insulin shot to prevent further complications.
Exercise recommendations according to age groups
Infants and children
The ADA recommends 30-60 minutes of activity or play sessions for infants and toddlers with type 1 diabetes. These sessions help promote the physical and mental growth of the infant with optimal blood sugar control.
Preschool and school children
Most children may wish to play with their peer groups in school or after school. Parents must take care to supplement the child with carbohydrates (5-15 gms) before, during and after play. With adequate food and hydration, the child may play any game or sport. A minimum of 60 minutes of exercise or play sessions must be encouraged.
Adolescents may exercise or play for more than 60 minutes a day. Activities may include running, swimming, sports, yoga, jumping and dancing with adequate blood sugar monitoring.
Adults with type 1 diabetes may have 3 sessions of resistance exercise with 3 sessions of endurance activities per week. These sessions can be more than 60 minutes depending on individual capacity and insulin requirements. Monitor sugar levels with a blood sugar normal level chart.
Exercise with caution
Exercise in type 1 diabetes is essential and carries loads of health benefits including lower blood sugar levels, reduced need for insulin and a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. You may go for resistance exercise using weights and equipment and endurance activities like cycling, jogging or any sport of your choice. You must take adequate precautions to monitor your blood sugar levels with a blood sugar normal level chart and maintain carbohydrate and water intake before, during and after exercise. If you are unable to manage hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia on your own, call for medical assistance immediately.