Tips to Effectively Manage Diabetes and Exercise

Physical activity is important for everyone, but diabetes and exercise don’t always go hand in hand. If you have diabetes, your blood sugar level can drop to dangerous levels after you exercise. However, by learning to manage your condition, you can safely exercise and keep your blood sugar regulated.

When you exercise, your body uses sugar and fat to generate energy. Sugar comes from your blood as well as your liver and muscles, where it is stored as glycogen. For example:

  • During the first 15 minutes of exercise: the sugar your body consumes comes from your blood or muscle glycogen.
  • After 15 minutes: fuel comes from the glycogen stored in your liver.
  • After 30 minutes: your body gets its energy from fat.

Because of this, your body depletes sugar levels and glycogen stores every time you exercise.

Everyone’s body replaces glycogen stores within a few hours, possibly up to 24 hours after vigorous activity. However, if you have diabetes and exercise, you are at a higher risk for developing hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, while your body restores its blood sugar and glycogen stores.

Here are tips to follow when exercising with diabetes:

1. Consult Your Doctor

According to the Mayo Clinic, you should get 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. However, that recommendation might not be right for you, so make sure to talk with your doctor before you start any exercise routine.

2. Keep an Eye on Your Blood Sugar

When exercising, it’s important to keep tabs on your blood sugar to make sure it isn’t too high or too low. Start by checking your blood sugar 30 minutes before exercising. If it is lower than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L), it may be too low. Eat a snack with carbohydrates, such as crackers or fruit, before you start to exercise.If your blood sugar falls between 250 mg/dL (13.9 mmol/L) and 300 mg/dL (16.7 mmol/L), check your urine for ketones. If it has excess ketones, your body doesn’t have enough insulin to control your blood sugar and you could be at risk for ketoacidosis. Postpone exercise until your ketones decrease.

If your blood sugar is above 300 mg/dL (16.7 mmol/L), your glucose level is too high for exercise. Wait until it decreases to avoid dehydration and ketoacidosis.If your blood sugar is between 100 and 250 mg/dL (5.6 to 13.9 mmol/L), the Mayo clinic says you can safely exercise. You should also check your blood sugar every 30 minutes during exercise. If it falls below 70 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L) or you feel weak, shaky or confused, stop exercising. Eat some glucose tablets or hard candy or drink a soda or juice. Check your blood sugar 15 minutes later. If it’s still low, have another serving and repeat until your blood sugar exceeds 70 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L).Check your blood sugar immediately after exercising as well. If it is too low, eat a snack with carbohydrates or drink some fruit juice.

3. Time Your Workouts and Meals

When you exercise can affect how your body reacts. Limit exercise to one or two sessions a day, and avoid exercising at the peak of your insulin action. Also, be sure to finish two hours or more before bedtime. If your glucose is lower than 100 mg/dL when you’re ready for bed, double your bedtime snack. You should also avoid drinking alcohol and skipping meals and snacks before and after exercising. Diabetes and exercise can be combined safely if you learn to manage your condition. Use these tips to keep your blood sugar at a safe level during physical activity.

Professional Athletes With Diabetes

You’d never know from watching them that these men reached their professional status with a chronic disease like diabetes. Find out how these four athletes with diabetes manage their illness along with their careers:

Jay Cutler, Football

Jay Cutler’s only indication he had diabetes was his inability to maintain his weight while playing for the Denver Broncos in 2007. Doctors initially thought it was stress that made Cutler drop from 235 pounds to 202, despite protests that he felt fine. However, when he was finally diagnosed in 2008, Cutler said he knew he had to make some drastic changes to his diet.

He started by cutting out refined carbohydrates and sweets and focusing on proteins and natural foods such as fruit. Cutler, who now plays quarterback for the Chicago Bears and has his own show on ESPN, said it takes daily commitment to manage diabetes.

“It’s not something that you can just be like ‘Hey, I’m going to take a day off here and I’ll catch back up with it tomorrow.'”

Gary Hall Jr., Swimming

Gary Hall, Jr. learned he had Type 1 diabetes while he was training for the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. He quickly educated himself about the disease to defy his doctors’ prognosis that his swimming career was over.

“I can run from diabetes, but I’ll never get very far,” he told Diabetes Health. “It’s gonna catch up to me, and I need to deal with it and move on.”

Hall proved his initial prognosis wrong when he took gold medals not only in Sydney, but in Athens in 2004. Hall now speaks about diabetes and how it shouldn’t deprive people of their goals and dreams.

Need help managing diabetes for yourself or a loved one? Find more tools and resources for managing health conditions.*

Nick Boynton, Hockey

Nick Boynton was told incorrectly that he had Type 2 diabetes when he was 19 years old before his doctors finally made the correct Type 1 diagnosis. Despite being diagnosed at such a young age in his hockey career, Boynton played 11 seasons in the National Hockey League, logging more than 600 games and helping the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup win in 2010.

“My advice to other young athletes would be to find a level that works for you, especially for training,” Boynton told Diabetes Health. “Make sure your blood glucose is at the level you want it by testing often. I make sure I test a lot. That’s one thing I do that’s very important, because if I’m low, then bad things are going to happen out on the ice. I find out what works for me with food and test my glucose as often as I can.”

Jay Leeuwenburg, Football

When Jay Leeuwenburg was diagnosed with diabetes at age 12, he hadn’t even considered becoming a football player. He simply used exercise and sports to manage his condition, playing football and basketball and joining the wrestling team. It wasn’t until he played collegiate football that he realized he had the chance to go pro and was drafted by the Chicago Bears.

After a stint with Indianapolis, he went on to play for the Cincinnati Bengals and write a book titled, “Yes I Can! Yes You Can! Tackle Diabetes and Win!” Leeuwenburg said he had developed a training regimen to maximize his performance and said he tested his blood sugar levels as often as 40 times on game days.

“Prepare for the worst and hope for the best with diabetes and life,” he said.

Take inspiration from these athletes with diabetes who made the best of their diagnoses to achieve athletic success.

Seven Tips for Traveling With Diabetes

Traveling can be stressful for the 10 percent of Tennesseans with diabetes.

You worry about misplacing or running out of medicine while you’re away; plus, the changes in routine and eating habits can make it hard to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

However, traveling with diabetes doesn’t have to be a hassle. Consider the following tips as you pack up and board your plane, train or automobile:

1. Pack Extra Medications and Supplies

While you’re eating meals away from home, you might need to use more insulin or blood glucose strips than normal. Keep a copy of your prescription and contact information for your pharmacy on hand in case your luggage gets lost or stolen or you need to have your prescription refilled while you’re out of town.

2. Identify Yourself

Be sure to carry or wear medical identification that identifies you as a diabetic, and keep contact information for your physician on your person at all times.

3. Pack Accordingly

Whether you’re driving or flying, the options for diabetic-friendly foods will likely be slim during your trip. Pack nuts, dried fruit and other snacks that you can eat on the go. And be sure to keep glucose tablets or drops, hard candy or juice on hand in case your blood sugar drops too low and you need a quick boost.

Need help managing diabetes for yourself or a loved one? Find more tools and resources for managing health conditions.*

4. Plan Ahead

If you’re flying, arrive at the airport two to three hours before your flight in case you run into delays at security checkpoints. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) makes special allowances for diabetics. These include the amount of liquid you can place into carry-on luggage and the types of screenings you undergo if you have insulin pumps and continuous blood glucose monitors. Visit the American Diabetes Association website for a list of your rights and TSA-approved exceptions for those with medical disabilities.

5. Follow TSA Regulations

Put all your diabetic supplies in one clear, sealable bag in your carry-on luggage. Even though most liquids and gels cannot pass through security, you may take insulin, other liquid medications, juice and cake gel through TSA checkpoints, even if their containers hold more than 3.4 ounces. Oversize containers have to be removed from your luggage and declared. Do not put them into the quart-sized zip-top bag used for non-medical liquids, since they will receive additional screening. Whenever possible, bring prescription labels with you. Though they aren’t required, they might help speed up the inspection process.

6. Keep an Eye on Your Insulin

Don’t put insulin into your checked luggage, since it could be affected by severe pressure and temperature changes. While on the flight and afterwards, look over your insulin closely before you inject each dose. If it looks abnormal or does not seem to be working properly, call your doctor.

7. Keep Moving

When traveling, you can reduce your risk of blood clots by moving around every hour or two.
Though traveling with diabetes may seem like a huge undertaking, following these tips and planning ahead can help lead to stress-free travel and a safe, healthy trip.

Taylor Mallory Holland is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in healthcare, technology, and business leadership. She regularly contributes content to some of the world’s top brands, including BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, and Samsung USA. As founder of Taylored Editorial, LLC, Holland also edits books, blogs, and Web content for dozens of bestselling authors. Find her on Twitter @TaylorMHoll.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.