5 Tips for Exercising with Type 1 Diabetes
There is no doubt that exercising with diabetes is about one million times more challenging than exercising without diabetes, particularly if you take insulin. Low blood sugars and high blood sugars are major party-poopers in the middle of a walk, yoga, spinning class, tai chi, or strength-training. Yet, it can be done and you can enjoy exercise, but it takes a little work, a little more effort, and a bunch of self-study.
Learning about the basic science of different types of exercise, taking a deep breath, and viewing your body as a science experiment can enable youto exercise happily and confidently.
Here are five tips on balancing blood sugars during exercise:
- Understand What Type of Exercise You Are Doing
Jogging and strength-training will 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 is also very common to see your blood sugar rise during this type of exercise; it is normal and actually promotes strength-gains. More mellow forms of exercise, like casual walking or gentle yoga, are not likely to raise your heart rate high enough to burn much glucose, but that depends on the individual.
- Control as Many Variables as Possible
When you are 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 content, and don’t start your workout with an out-of-range blood sugar (either high or low).
- Treat Hypoglycemia with Only a Few Types of Foods
The food you choose to correct low blood sugars makes a difference in how quickly your blood sugar will rise. Using a lot of fat and protein will slow down digestion, prolonging when your blood sugar will be safe for exercise again. If you are worried about going low again, use fat and protein after treating with a fast-acting carbohydrate to help sustain your blood sugar. (In many cases, though, this really isn’t necessary. Low blood sugars just require more patience than we’d like to give them!)
- Take Really Great Notes!
Pick one form of exercise. Write down the time of day, your pre-exercise blood sugar, anything you just ate, and any insulin you just took (if any). Then write down exactly what kind of exercise you are doing and for how long you are doing it. Check your blood sugar half-way through your exercise, and again at the end of your workout. 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, or you actually need a little bit of insulin in your body during exercise. If you are 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 carbohydrate uncovered by insulin.
Aim 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!
- Try Exercising First Thing in the Morning, on an Empty Stomach
This is a secret trick from the bodybuilding world. Bodybuilders are constantly trying to burn as much body fat as possible without burning up muscle. 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 unexpected high or low can simply mean there is something about exercise and the human body that you haven’t learned quite yet!
Health-e-Solutions comment: As one of the five pillars supporting thriving health, an integral part of the Health-e-Solutions lifestyle always includes a consistent exercise regimen. We want to help you realize the importance of exercise, but also the complexities involved in #BloodSugarControl with diabetes while incorporating exercise into your daily routine. Our downloadable, printable report on exercise and diabetes equips you to make exercise with diabetes, particularly insulin-dependent diabetes, more manageable, fun, and practical.