For many of us, making the decision whether or not to go to the gym after work (or before work for you early birds!) is a daily struggle. There are so many activities vying for your time whether it’s a trip to Target, happy hour with friends, or that new season of your favorite show that was just released on Netflix. For individuals with type 1 diabetes, making it to the gym is much more than a matter of willpower. Exercising with type 1 diabetes means carefully taking into consideration blood sugar levels before, during and after exercise. Although exercise presents a unique challenge for individuals with type 1 diabetes, it improves quality of life, reduces the risk of complications related to type 1 diabetes like heart conditions, and can make it easier to control blood sugar levels. If you have type 1 diabetes, you’ve probably found that different exercises, the time of day you exercise, and what you ate before and after exercising all have an impact on how your body handles physical activity.
Since there are a lot of variables at play that can impact your blood sugar levels, begin your journey to better fitness by trying out one exercise at a time. That way, you can adjust for other variables—like food consumed and time of day—that affect how your body responds to exercise.
Ginger Vieira, author of “Dealing with Diabetes Burnout,” knows first hand the challenge of exercising with type 1 diabetes. She suggests keeping an exercise diary and writing down “the time of day, your pre-exercise blood sugar, anything you just ate, and any insulin you just took. Then write down exactly what kind of exercise you’re doing and for how long you’re doing it.” Vieira also recommends checking your blood sugar midway through the exercise and after exercising. She prefers exercising first thing in the morning before breakfast when her blood sugar is in-range and her energy is at its highest.
In addition to what you’re eating, how much insulin you’ve taken, and when you’re exercising, the type of exercise you do will also impact your body’s response. Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, like swimming or running, uses more glucose so it tends to lower your blood sugar. You may need to eat extra carbohydrates before exercising to keep your blood sugar in a safe range. Strength training or anaerobic exercise, like weight lifting, is fueled by fat, and according to Vieira, can “increase your sensitivity to insulin later in the day while it works to repair and build those muscles.”
As you add to your exercise journal and learn what does and doesn’t work for you, remember that it’s normal to get frustrated sometimes. It’s called a workout for a reason, right? Exercising regularly is hard work, but the benefits are lasting and will boost not only your physical but also your mental health. To avoid those days when Netflix wins out over the gym, build up a support system. Workout with a friend and keep each other accountable in regard to your fitness and diet goals. If you’re schedule doesn’t mesh with your friend’s, try out a group fitness class or work with a personal trainer who can tailor a fitness plan to your needs.
5 Tips for Exercise with Type 1, by Ginger Vieira, Insulin Nation