How to Exercise Safely with Diabetes
Getting 30 to 60 minutes of regular exercise a day lowers the risk of heart disease and some cancers, controls weight, reduces stress and improves mood. For those living with diabetes, physical activity is even more important for keeping blood glucose within a target range and lowering A1c. But, to reap these long-term benefits, a keen understanding about how to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), hyperglycemia (high blood glucose), and injury during a workout is crucial. Here are some tips to ensure a safe experience.
Personalize your workouts.
Before starting a fitness routine, talk with your health care team to determine what level of exercise is best for you. With their help, create a plan that starts slowly and gradually increases intensity and duration over time. Be sure to keep a journal that records blood glucose levels along with the type and length of exercise. Understanding how different activities affect your blood sugar will help determine how to customize your diet, workout program and medications as needed.
Plan ahead and check glucose frequently.
Watching for low and high blood glucose is the most vital precaution to take when engaging in physical activity. To make sure blood glucose stays within a safe target range of 100 to 240 mg/dl, monitor it before, during and after exercise and put a proactive plan in place in case hypo or hyperglycemia occurs.
- How to prevent hypoglycemia. Physical activity can lower blood glucose for 24 hours or more after a workout based on how much insulin is circulating in the body. Hypoglycemia is most commonly experienced among those who are on insulin. To prevent a drop in blood glucose, don’t skip meals and keep a consistent schedule that incorporates a meal or snack within 30 minutes to two hours before working out. When blood glucose is below 100 mg/dl prior to a workout, eat a 15 g carbohydrate snack to increase it to the safe range. If using a pump, consider lowering the basal insulin rate while exercising. If a drop in glucose occurs during a workout, stop the activity immediately and treat it by consuming fast-acting carbohydrates like glucose tabs, a sports drink, juice or regular soda. Exercise shouldn’t be resumed until it has increased and within the safe target range.
- Monitor high blood glucose. When blood glucose is above 240 mg/dl prior to exercise, it’s critical to check urine for ketones. If ketones are moderate to high, avoid exercise and talk with your doctor because working out could cause them to elevate. If no ketones are present, then it’s most likely fine to proceed with caution and possible that activity could reduce blood glucose.