Exercising with Diabetes: How to Manage Your Insulin

diabetes exercise

The human body uses a complex feedback loop to manage blood sugar. Blood glucose, insulin, the pancreas, the liver, and the cells all play important roles. If you have either Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes straightening out each piece of this blood sugar puzzle can be really difficult! To make diabetes management even more challenging, this feedback loop behaves differently when you’re exercising.

Don’t get confused here—exercise is a wonderful thing for diabetics! But, all diabetics need to be aware of the effects that exercise has on their insulin and blood sugar levels. Any type of aerobic activity, from walking to swimming to cycling, will lower blood glucose levels during the exercise and can increase insulin sensitivity for up to 24 hours after you’re done with the activity. Without properly adjusting your insulin dose, exercise may lead to hypoglycemia.

Exercise, Insulin, and Glucose: How They Work Together

No diabetic wants to get into trouble with exercise-induced hypoglycemia and the best way to avoid it is to learn how your body uses glucose when you’re working out. The easiest place to start is in the muscles.

During exercise, your muscles use glucose as fuel. They do have some glucose in storage and that’s the fuel they use first. After the muscular glucose runs out, the pancreas releases the hormone glucagon. This triggers the liver to release glucose into the blood stream and that’s what the muscles will use for extended fuel.

Usually, the body of a diabetic has a difficult time getting glucose into the cells. However, during exercise, the muscle contractions stimulate the cells to easily pull in the glucose they need. Exercise also increases the effectiveness of the insulin in your blood. This is true even when the activity is over. The muscles want to replenish their stores of glucose, so they will continue to pull in extra glucose for hours.

All of these interactions mean that diabetics need to carefully manage their insulin dose and blood sugar levels before, during, and after exercise. If you have too much insulin in your bloodstream during exercise, the muscles will pull in too much blood glucose and you’ll become hypoglycemic. However, if you don’t have enough insulin, the glucose cannot get into the muscles and you may become hyperglycemic.

How to Adjust Your Insulin for Exercise

Now that you know what’s going on inside of your body during exercise, what should you do about it? All diabetics should lower their insulin dose before exercising, but the amount of that reduction is different for every individual. In general, you should reduce your insulin dose by one or two units. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • How fit are you?

If you haven’t exercised in a long time, you may be more likely to be hypoglycemic during activity.

  • How long and difficult is your activity?

Long, strenuous workouts are the most likely culprits of hypoglycemia.

  • What time of day is it?

Diabetics who exercise before breakfast usually have a lower chance of becoming hypoglycemic.

  • What are your blood glucose levels before you begin exercising?

If you skip a meal, you are more likely to have low blood sugar during exercise. If you’re blood sugar is above 180 mg/dL, you may not need any insulin adjustments.

Remember, you should check your blood sugar once every hour during exercise. If your level is below 70 mg/dL, stop the activity and take 15-20 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate. You can recheck your glucose levels after 15 minutes and return to exercising if the levels are within normal range.

Precautions

Remember, we are referring to aerobic, moderate-intensity exercise. If you are participating in particularly strenuous, anaerobic exercises, you will need to make different adjustments to your insulin doses.

It is very important that you speak with your doctor before you begin any new aerobic activities or exercise regimens. He or she can help you properly adjust your insulin dose and instruct you about the exercises that are best suited for your unique circumstances.

Enjoyed this article?  Try reading these as well . . .
2 Steps to Treating Type 2 Diabetes without Medication
Exercises for Diabetics Who Suffer from COPD
4 Ways to Help Your Insulin Work For You

Diabetes Clinical Research

Speak Your Mind