There are many good reasons for anyone with diabetes to participate in a regular exercise program. But what are the important considerations about exercise and blood sugar control for kids with diabetes?
Exercise can stabilize blood sugar levels and help maintain a healthy weight. Excess body fat prevents insulin from working to its full potential to control blood sugar. Another benefit of regular exercise is stress reduction and relaxation. Exercise is fun, especially when you are playing your favorite sport with your friends!
Preventing Low Blood Sugar – Hypoglycemia
Every diabetic knows the importance of planning in the successful management blood sugar. Regular blood sugar testing, or the use of a continuous glucose monitor, along with meal planning are all parts of comprehensive diabetes management plan. One consideration for active children, especially those participating in organized sports is the prevention of hypoglycemia.
Activities done for a long period of time, even at a moderate pace can cause the blood sugar levels to drop precipitously, even hours after the activity has ceased.
Keep coaches in the loop. They can assist with extra testing and have quick sugar snacks available, like fruit juices, hard candy, or honey. Coaches should know the signs of both low and high blood sugar, and keep handy instructions about what to do if either situation occurs.
Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar (hypoglycemia):Sweating, lightheadedness, shakiness, weakness, anxiety, hunger, headache, problems concentrating, and confusion
Symptoms of High Blood Sugar (hyperglycemia):Frequent urination, fatigue, increased thirst, blurred vision, and headache
Hyperglycemia and Dehydration
When your muscles work hard they signal for the body to release extra glycogen from storage in the liver. If this excess glucose is not needed, and the amount of insulin doesn’t match the blood glucose, hyperglycemia (too much blood sugar) can result.
Shorter intense activities – like sprinting or weight lifting may actually cause a rise in blood sugar. The body sees the energy expenditure uptick and releases stored glycogen from the liver. If the activity level is not maintained, the body can’t use the excess sugar and blood sugar levels go up.
Unfortunately the body tries to remove the excess glucose through increase urination – which can contribute to dehydration. As with all athletes, children with diabetes need to stay well hydrated during any physical activity. The excitement of competition can produce extra adrenaline, which can also raise blood sugar.
Planning is the Key
Your healthcare provider may recommend a change to insulin dosing on the days when your child has practice or a game where there will be a higher level of physical activity. Tracking blood sugar levels before, during and after activity can give valuable information to your child’s healthcare provider to adjust dosing schedules.
Get to know how your child’s body reacts to different kinds of activity. To prevent the worry of blood sugar swings consider adding a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to your child’s diabetes management program. (link to 411 on CGM blog) A CGM will provide 24/7 updates on blood sugar levels and trending information.
A Lifetime of Fitness
Everyone can appreciate the long-term benefits of fitness – improved functioning of your heart, lungs, and other vital body systems. Exercise enhances flexibility and increases muscle strength.
Even if your child does not play on a sports team you can still plan activities as a family to keep everyone moving. Ask your child to suggest activities for your family as they are much more likely to happily participate in activities that they already enjoy.