Fitness and Health

Fitness and health go hand in hand, and this section of our health library is devoted to exploring the relationship between these two very important aspects of life.

Everything to Know About Exercise for Type 1 Diabetes

Uncontrolled diabetes can have a negative impact on health. However, one can improve outcomes with exercise for diabetes management.


Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body is unable to use glucose as energy. This occurs when insulin lacks or becomes inefficient.

Insulin can be thought of as a key that unlocks the cells' doors following carbohydrate intake. Without insulin acting as a "key," glucose is unable to enter the cells for energy. Glucose remains in the blood, and namely known as "high blood sugar."

Uncontrolled diabetes can have a negative impact on health. However, one can improve outcomes by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

How Diabetes Affects You

Diabetes affects the body in a number of ways, particularly if left uncontrolled. Classic symptoms one may notice include increased thirst and urination, fatigue, blurred vision, and tingling or pain in the hands.

Long-term consequences of unmanaged diabetes can impact the entire body, though some parts are affected more than others. Uncontrolled diabetes often damages blood vessels and nerves. Such damage can lead to heart disease, blindness, limb amputations, and kidney failure.

Diabetes can also affect day-to-day decisions, as careful management requires making sound choices to prevent from harmful risks. The impact of diabetes also depends on the type diagnosed with.

There are two primary types of diabetes, including types 1 and 2 diabetes:

• Type 1 Diabetes: In type 1 diabetes, the body's own immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. This leaves insulin absent from the body and creates high blood sugars.

Symptoms generally start during childhood and it cannot be prevented. Type 1 diabetes largely requires insulin therapy and needs to be monitored with close attention.

• Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is the most common type among the U.S. population. Insulin utilization is not compromised related to destroyed cells, but largely related to insulin resistance.

Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle. Weight loss and maintenance through a nutritious diet and exercise shows to be effective for improving diabetes.

Exercise and Diabetes

Consistent exercise is essential for overall health, despite the type of diabetes being managed. Physical activity can improve health both physically and mentally, creating feelings of wellness and managing stress.

Controlling emotional stress can keep diabetes better controlled, as blood sugars tend to rise following stressful moments and situations.

During physical activity, the muscles also work harder. This makes the body glucose as energy, ultimately pulling glucose from the bloodstream and from muscle stores.

Exercise and type 2 diabetes further has a strong tie, especially with overweight and obesity present and leading to diabetes development. When body fat is reduced, insulin can reach the cells more easily. This subsides the condition of "insulin resistance" and encourages "insulin sensitivity."

Regular exercise makes cells more sensitive to the effects of insulin, even up to 24 hours following physical activity. But if taking insulin, mostly needed in type 1 diabetes, exercising can be a challenge.

It is important to closely and frequently monitor blood sugars to prevent drastic fluctuations in blood sugars.

Use the suggested tips below as precautionary measures to ensure safe exercise. Though directed towards type 1 diabetes safety, they can also be applied to those living with type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes Exercise Tips

1. Consult with the Professionals: Before jumping into any exercise regimen, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional. A diabetes specialist team can devise a plan to reduce associated risks with type 1 diabetes and exercise.

Risks are particularly related to glucose response, in which blood sugars are at risk of becoming too low or too high.

2. Check Blood Sugars: Especially if just starting an exercise routine, check blood sugars during and throughout the workout. Also check blood sugar after exercise to indicate patterns.

Knowing the status of blood sugar is especially critical for individuals with type 1 diabetes. If blood sugar is out of range, as they may need to adjust insulin dosages or consume a snack.

3. Pack Snacks: Consuming snacks is largely dependent on how the intensity and length of exercise. However, eating a small carbohydrate snack can reduce the risk of hypoglycemia.

If blood glucose levels tend down before a workout, have a pre-exercise snack according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Also eat a small carb snack before exercise if blood glucose level is less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Aim for approximately 15 grams of gram of carb. Good options include 1 small apple, 2 medium figs, 8 fluid ounces of milk, and about 5 crackers. Also always carry a carbohydrate food or drink, such as juice or glucose tabs, that quickly raise blood glucose.

4. Easy Does It: The American Heart Association recommends participating in 150 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise weekly. Incorporating strength-training two or three times per week can help reduce fat mass while fostering strong, lean muscle.

But especially if new to exercise, easy does it and start slow! Even if activity time is five minutes, start slowly to build up endurance. Work your way up to at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week.

Also learn how to exercise the right way to prevent the risk of injury. A personal trainer can also demonstrate proper form and technique.

5. Have Fun with Exercise: Though working out may require close monitoring, especially in the beginning stages, exercising should be enjoyed! Have fun joining various activities, including group exercise classes, hiking, biking, or any activity that rises heart rate and utilizes muscle.

Ultimately, when taking the necessary precautions, working out can be achieved in a safe manner. So grab a friend, your favorite music, and go have fun getting active!

Additional Considerations

Individuals with diabetes prove to benefit from exercise. Not only can blood sugars improve, but reap the benefits of improved physical and mental health exercise provides.

To ensure the safety and benefits of exercise for diabetes management, consulting with the professionals is recommended. In addition to exercise, health experts may recommend following a diabetic diet for tighter blood glucose control.

A diabetic diet is essentially a healthy eating pattern. There is an emphasis on eating more whole grains, veggies and fruits, lean proteins, legumes, dairy products, and healthy fats.

Individuals should also limit highly processed products laden in refined flour, sugar, oil, and salt. Additional considerations of a diabetic diet include meal timing and portion sizes to keep blood sugars controlled.

If crunched for time and desiring additional meal assistance, bistroMD offers meal delivery for diabetics. The bistroMD Diabetic Program combines the nutritional requirements of a diabetic diet with the delicious flavors of top-notch cuisine.

BistroMD's diabetic meals supply 25 net grams of carbs or less. There is also the option of EATS (essential and tasty snacks), which provide less than 15 grams of net carb. All meals and snacks also deliver adequate lean protein to regulate blood sugar.

Diabetic-friendly meals and snacks are also bountiful in flavor to satisfy the taste buds. Apple cinnamon oatmeal with scrambled eggs, roast beef and pepper jack, grilled chicken pesto with farro salad, meatloaf with honey bourbon glaze, and salted caramel pecan bars are just a diabetic-friendly menu options!

Also with bistroMD, gain support right from the very beginning! Members can consult with their very own dietitian via phone, email, and live chat. They also have access to a members only Facebook group for motivation and inspiration, along with endless resources. The bistroMD Health Library is also stocked with tips and ideas related to all things fitness and health!

Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on August 16, 2017. Updated on August 31, 2019.


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