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Six Tips to Exercise Safely with Type 1 Diabetes

Just because you have type 1 diabetes, doesn’t mean you should shy away from an active lifestyle. In fact, health experts recommend regular physical activity for people with type 1 diabetes. So, once you make the decision to commit to exercising, here are some tips to help you work out without worry.

  • Check with your doctor. If you haven’t exercised in a while, discuss this with your healthcare provider before you begin a physical activity program. Pushing yourself physically beyond your usual activity level will change how your body uses insulin. If you don’t adjust insulin properly for new activity, you may experience dangerous blood sugar lows and highs. Your doctor or diabetes educator can talk to you about what to expect with new physical activities and can help you map out an exercise plan.
  • Understand your body’s response to exercise and insulin. In the long-term, one of the positive ways exercise can improve health is that it sensitizes the body to insulin, which sometimes allows people with type 1 diabetes to use lower insulin doses over time. In the short-term, exercise can affect your insulin sensitivity so much that you need to eat an additional serving of carbs (15–20 grams) prior to or during exercise to prevent low blood sugar.
  • Gather information and plan. Track your blood sugar levels closely while you learn how your body responds to exercise. As you “get into shape,” your insulin needs and blood sugar levels may continue to change. Check blood sugar levels frequently—before, during, and after physical activity. Also consider closely tracking (more so than usual) your blood sugar for a full 24 hours after exercise. Physical activity can affect blood sugar levels for a whole day.
  • Plan for the worst case scenario. Always carry fast-acting carbohydrates, such as a sports drink, soda, or glucose tablets with you when you are exercising to prevent low blood sugar. In addition, wherever you’re exercising, make sure you are wearing your medical alert bracelet; if you experience severe hypoglycemia, people around you need to know how to help.
  • Hydrate well. Staying hydrated allows your body to properly cool itself, and helps the kidneys function well. This is especially important for people with diabetes, which can tax kidneys and decrease kidney function over time.
  • Pick appropriate activities. If you have conditions or symptoms that limit your ability to perform physical activity, ask your doctor for suggestions on appropriate options. For example, some people with diabetes develop neuropathy, which can cause a painful burning sensation in hands and feet; therefore, lower-impact activities, such as bike riding or gentle yoga, can be good options.

Remember, that as long as your doctor has given you the okay, any activity is better than none. Simply getting off the couch more regularly may be all you need to garner the benefits of physical activity and improve your health.

Source: American Diabetes Association

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