Type 1 Diabetes and Exercise: Managing Physical Activity with Care

Exercise and physical activity are important for maintaining overall health and wellbeing for everyone, including those who live with type 1 diabetes. While there may be some challenges in managing glucose levels during physical activity, with the right strategies and guidance from healthcare professionals, individuals with type 1 diabetes can engage in exercise safely and effectively. In this blog, we will delve into the impact of type 1 diabetes on exercise and explore the ways to manage glucose levels and insulin intake to make exercising a part of your daily routine.

Discover how Welsh international Futsal player and Everyone Active Sporting Champion, Chris Bright deals with the demands of playing high-level sport while living with type 1 diabetes:

Understanding Physical Activity and Exercise

Before we discuss how type 1 diabetes affects exercise, it’s essential to differentiate between physical activity and exercise. Physical activity encompasses any movement that uses energy, including activities like household chores, walking the dog, or climbing stairs. On the other hand, exercise refers to planned and structured activities aimed at improving fitness, such as gym workouts, team sports, or marathon training.

Managing Type 1 Diabetes Around Physical Activity

Engaging in physical activity, whether planned or spontaneous, can impact blood glucose levels in people with type 1 diabetes. Everyday tasks like gardening or lifting heavy objects may require closer monitoring of glucose levels. It is crucial to be aware of any changes in glucose levels and take appropriate action to avoid going too high or too low.

Can People with Type 1 Diabetes Exercise?

Absolutely! Exercise is beneficial for everyone – including those with type 1 diabetes. However, it requires careful planning to manage blood glucose levels effectively during exercise. Different types of exercise can have varying effects on blood glucose, with some activities causing levels to drop and others causing levels to rise. Consult with your doctor to develop a personalised plan that considers your specific exercise routine and requirements.

The Benefits of Exercise for Those with Type 1 Diabetes

Regular exercise offers several advantages for people with type 1 diabetes. Firstly, it can help stabilise blood glucose levels in the long term and increase insulin sensitivity, meaning you may require less insulin over time. Additionally, exercise can contribute to the prevention of long-term complications associated with type 1 diabetes, such as heart disease. Other benefits include lower blood pressure, increased energy levels, improved muscle and bone strength, and enhanced mental wellbeing through the release of mood-boosting endorphins.

Choosing the Right Exercise

There is no specific type of exercise that is ideal for everyone with type 1 diabetes. The key is to select activities that you enjoy and that can be incorporated into your lifestyle. However, it is crucial to understand how different exercises affect your blood glucose levels. Some exercises, like flexibility training such as Yoga or Pilates, may have a minimal impact on glucose levels, while more intensive activities like running or weightlifting may have a significant impact. Regular blood glucose monitoring before, during, and after exercise can provide valuable insights into how your body reacts to specific activities.

Exercise affects everyone with type 1 differently, which is why it’s important to work with your Diabetes Healthcare Team on a plan that suits you. There are, however, general ways in which exercise can affect your blood glucose levels

  • Exercise that relies solely on the anaerobic energy system, like sprinting and weightlifting, is likely to cause your blood glucose levels to rise. This happens because during high-intensity workouts you release large amounts of adrenaline—a hormone that triggers your liver to break down stored glucose so it can be released into your bloodstream (also good for those looking to build muscle mass).
  • Meanwhile, aerobic exercise like swimming, cycling, or running may have a varied impact on your blood glucose levels – some cause them to drop and others don’t – overall they tend to lower your blood sugar.
  • Yoga, tai chi and Pilates have minimal effects on blood glucose levels because only a small amount of glucose is released from the liver and used by muscles during these activities.

Managing Blood Glucose Levels During Exercise

Managing blood glucose levels effectively during exercise is crucial for individuals with type 1 diabetes. Here are a few strategies to consider:

  • Monitoring: Regularly monitor your blood glucose levels before, during, and after exercise to understand how your body responds to different activities.
  • Adjusting Insulin and Medication: Depending on your blood glucose levels, you may need to adjust your insulin dosage or other diabetes medications before, during, or after exercise. Work closely with your healthcare team to find the right balance.
  • Carbohydrate Intake: Consuming carbohydrates before, during, or after exercise can help maintain stable blood glucose levels. However, the timing and amount of carbohydrates may vary depending on individual needs.
  • Hydration: Stay adequately hydrated before, during, and after exercise to support overall performance and prevent dehydration-induced fluctuations in blood glucose.
  • Communication: Inform your exercise partners, coaches, or instructors about your type 1 diabetes so that they can provide assistance if needed.

Living with type 1 diabetes should not hinder your ability to engage in regular exercise and physical activity. With careful planning, guidance from healthcare professionals, and attentive monitoring of blood glucose levels, individuals with type 1 diabetes can enjoy the numerous benefits of exercise. Remember to consult with your Diabetes Healthcare Team to develop a personalised exercise plan and make physical activity an integrated part of your everyday life. Stay active and take charge of your wellbeing!

Note: The information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and should not replace medical advice. Consult your healthcare professional for personalised guidance and recommendations regarding exercise and type 1 diabetes management.

Many thanks to the JDRF for their help with the article.