Type 1 diabetes and exercise – Tips to avoid hypoglycemia

Type 1 Diabetes & Exercise

Fear of low blood sugar levels and fainting are two major factors that discourage people with type 1 diabetes to exercise. While children might not be totally aware of their condition, adults with type 1 diabetes are wary of exercise and hypoglycemia.

Most people with type 1 diabetes tend to avoid exercise and even physical activity due to a deep-rooted phobia of their condition. Yet, exercise is an essential aspect of diabetes treatment. With proper physical exercise, one can avoid many major diabetes complications. However, the trick is to do it properly.

Fortunately, even for people with type 1 diabetes this is no rocket science. With just a few precautions, one can avoid hypoglycemia and enjoy their favorite sport or exercise.

Benefits of exercise for people with type 1 diabetes

  • Reduces high blood pressure
  • Helps in reducing cholesterol levels
  • Promotes better blood circulation and improves heart health
  • Helps in losing or maintaining weight
  • Good for joints, muscles, and bones
  • Reduces stress levels
  • Improves mental health

Vicious cycle of exercise in type 1 diabetes

If you have type 1diabetes and are trying to lose weight by exercise, you might actually end up gaining weight!

As per the suggestions of your diabetes doctor or your endocrinologist, you had started an exercise regimen. Your goals are to lose weight and improve your health. However, once you start exercising, you have a tendency of developing hypoglycemia. For that, you start compensating it with high-calorie foods or fruit juices with added sugars. This actually leads to weight gain instead of weight loss or improved health.

Being in such a circumstance can be quite frustrating. You had achieved the opposite of what you wanted! So, how to go about this? How to gain the benefits of exercise without having low blood sugar levels?

It first starts with an understanding of how your body behaves during exercise. Then, by choosing the appropriate activity along with some smart moves, you can exercise and avoid low blood sugar levels in diabetes type 1.

Exercise-induced hypoglycemia in children & adolescents with type 1 diabetes

Children will be children. If your son or daughter does not jump around, play, and act on your nerves, then that’s a cause for concern. However, if the child has type 1diabetes, then it certainly is an additional duty for you to ensure that he/she is educated and prepared for low blood sugar levels.

While managing type 1 diabetes in children, one major aspect is to ensure that all developmental milestones are achieved without any hurdles. They should, under proper supervision, be allowed to blossom and unravel their true potential. This means that they should be allowed to play, but herein comes the major challenge.

What causes post-exercise hypoglycemia?

While doing physical activities, muscles of the body crave for glucose. They need energy to function. That is why the body needs to produce and metabolize glucose at a faster rate in order to provide energy during this physical activity.

With increased muscle function during exercise, there is an increasing demand for glucose. So, glucose stored in the liver and muscles reduce. Glucose from the bloodstream is pumped into muscles leading to post-exercise hypoglycemia. 

It is known that in both children and adults with type 1diabetes, the consequences of exercise can last up to 15 hours. This means that if your child has indulged in physical activity this morning, the chance of low blood sugar levels are high till late night.   

Post-exercise hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels after exercise can be acute and delayed. This means that a child is prone to have hypoglycemia during or immediately after the physical activity, or even 15 hours after the physical activity.

What to do during low blood sugar levels?    

Hypoglycemia is a condition where glucose levels in the bloodstream reduce causing certain symptoms.  Hypoglycemia is a condition in which blood glucose level of a person starts to go below 70 mg/Dl. It can lead to complications like loss of consciousness, seizures, and even fatality.

Note: In case of recurrent hypoglycemia, consult an endocrinologist for a thorough evaluation.

When it comes to type 1 diabetes and exercise, it is important to identify these symptoms and act immediately.

  • Feeling hungry
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Being nervous and shaky
  • Having problems with body coordination
  • Anxiety, impatience, and irritation
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Tingling sensation of the tongue

If you notice any of these symptoms, take any of these, whichever is immediately available

  • 15 grams of glucose (glucose tablet)
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar, or honey
  • Sugar candies
  • Any substance that contains high sugar content

If symptoms do not subside after 15 minutes, consume another dose of the above substances. If symptoms do not subside, consult your nearest hospital.

Smart approaches to avoid hypoglycemia during exercise

  1. Make good use of your glucometer. Measure your sugar levels regularly. If you are at risk of a hypo, measure sugar level before and after exercise
  2. Eat low-carb foods before exercise. This way insulin requirement is lesser and so lesser risk of hypoglycemia. Green juices are a good choice
  3. Have a small snack during exercise. Ideally, granola gar, lemonade, iced tea
  4. Regulating/stopping basal insulin: This should only be done under the guidance of your diabetes doctor
  5. Insulin modification: This is similar to the above method and should also be conducted under medical guidance
  6. Varying the type of exercise from moderate intensity aerobic exercises to moderate intensity resistance training
  7. Start with some resistance training and then move on to cardio exercises. This is known to reduce the risk of hypoglycemia
  8. Vary the time of exercise: Morning, afternoon, & evening
  9. Shift site of insulin injection as per the activity
  10. Never exercise alone

It is important to reap the positive benefits of exercise and stay healthy.  And, having type 1diabetes should not come in the way of a healthy life. If you still have any doubts or queries, please post them in the comments section or consult our diabetologists for complete guidance.