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Type 1 Diabetes & Exercise: Avoiding Hypos

Risk of hypoglycemia when exercising is associated with type 1 diabetes due to reliance of injected insulin to manage blood sugars. However, exercise should not be feared... So here are some tips to be safe before, during, and after working out.

Exercise is a vital part of type 1 diabetes management. Aside from overall health benefits and increased energy levels associated with regular exercise, it also helps control blood glucose levels and prevents long-term complications, such as heart problems. Regular exercise increases insulin sensitivity for those with type 1 diabetes. In other words, after exercise, your body doesn't need as much insulin to process carbohydrates.

Exercise Suggestions There are three main kinds of exercise—aerobic, strength training, and flexibility work. You should aim to have a good balance of all three.

Strength training gives you lean, efficient muscles, and it also helps you maintain strong, healthy bones. Flexibility training improves how well your muscles and joints work. Stretching before and after exercise (especially after exercise) reduces muscle soreness and relaxes your muscles.

Aerobic exercises include:

• Walking

• Jogging/Running

• Swimming

• Cycling

• Rowing

You should aim to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. In fact, the American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a week, which works out to 30 minutes five days a week. If you think that you can't find 30 minutes, you can break up the exercise into chunks—10 minutes here and there.

How to Avoid Hypos When Exercising

To avoid hypoglycemia when doing physical activity, monitor your blood sugar before and after exercise. Here are some other guidelines from Colberg and the American Diabetes Association:

  • Eat a small carbohydrate-containing snack before exercising if your blood glucose is 100 mg/dl or lower. Wait about 10 to 15 minutes before starting your activity.

  • Eat a snack if you plan to exercise for more than 60 minutes, plan to do a more intense workout than usual, or if the weather is warmer or cooler than usual.

  • Always carry a small snack that's high in sugar or carbohydrates. The average 150-pound adult needs 20 grams of carbohydrate for every half-hour of moderate exercise. Some snack choices include sports drinks and gels and easily absorbed carbohydrate sources, such as jelly beans and energy bars.

  • Watch for symptoms of hypoglycemia during exercise. If you feel weak, lightheaded, cold, or clammy, stop and check your blood glucose. If it's low, treat it with a pure source of glucose, such as glucose tablets or gel and ease off on the intensity of your workout.

  • Become familiar with the ways different activities affect your blood sugar levels. Measure blood sugar before and after exercise. Keep a written record of what the activity was, how long you did the activity, what you ate, and blood glucose levels before and after. Over time, you'll better understand how activity affects your blood sugar levels and insulin doses.

  • Avoid rigorous exercise if your fasting blood glucose is more than 250 mg/dl or if blood glucose levels are greater than 300 mg/dl.

Stick with Your Exercise Plan Make a commitment to exercise and make it a priority. Your long-term health depends on it, so as tough as it may be to find time or to motivate yourself to exercise, keep being active.

One of the best ways to make sure you stick with an exercise plan is to mix it up—and do things that you really enjoy. If there's a sport that you enjoy, try joining a team. If you enjoy walking, join a local hiking club or if you like running, sign up for races or join local running groups to provide a challenge and a goal. Exercising with friends has excellent advantages, knowing that someone else will be there with you makes it easier to want to exercise.

Exercise and physical activity are necessary parts of your life when you have type 1 diabetes—just like watching what you eat and taking insulin. Exercise can help you avoid serious long-term complications of diabetes.

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