Diabetes doesn’t have to get in the way of exercise and sports competition – parents just need to keep an eye on it. Planning ahead and knowing the typical blood glucose response to exercise can help keep your child’s blood glucose from going too low or too high. Tracking these numbers will reveal how a body responds to exercise and help prevent potentially dangerous blood sugar fluctuations.
The Importance of Exercise in Kids with Diabetes
- Improves blood glucose control (has an insulin-like effect)
- Increases cardiovascular endurance, function and efficiency
- Strengthens bones, muscles and joints
- Improves flexibility
- Lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and improves HDL (good) cholesterol
- Decreases stress and improves mood
- Improves circulation
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Improves insulin efficiency
- May prevent or reverse onset of Type-2 diabetes
Exercise Recommendations and Precautions
A child in good health should be getting 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, 5-7 days per week. Diabetes should not hold your child back from enjoying physical activity or participating in team sports.
When your child engages in any form of exercise:
- Check blood glucose before and after, as well as every 30 minutes for prolonged activity
- Always carry sugar source as an extra safety measure, if insulin is being used
- Make sure your child is with a friend or relative who is aware of their condition and wearing an ID bracelet in case of emergencies
- Make sure your child drinks plenty of water
- Use carbohydrate replacements as needed
Carbohydrate replacements should be used in order to prevent low blood sugar due to exercise. The amount of carbohydrates needed is dependent upon exercise intensity, exercise duration, and pre-exercise blood glucose levels. Consult with your physician to discuss the appropriate use of carbohydrate replacements.
When is it Not Okay for Children with Diabetes to Exercise?
- Have blood glucose greater than 300 mg/dL
- Have blood glucose less than 90 mg/dL
- Show positive ketones in the urine
- Show signs/symptoms of hyper/hypoglycemia
- Currently fighting an illness
Can my Child Exercise if he/she Uses and Insulin Pump?
Children who use insulin pumps for diabetes management also should be allowed to exercise, but need to develop an individualized plan with their physician and/or nurse before they partake in routine activity.
In general, those with an insulin pump should follow the same guidelines as those who do not use an insulin pump. Your child’s care team will be able to determine if they are able to disconnect from their pump for a period of time or have to set a temporary basal rate during exercise. Risk of low blood sugar may be immediate in response to exercise or may have a delayed appearance post-exercise.
Like any other part of a healthy lifestyle, new exercise habits might be hard for kids to adopt at first, but experiencing the benefits of exercise can help kids stick to their program. Managing diabetes includes more than just checking for symptoms, it means learning to live a complete life by managing their condition.