Exercising with Type 1 Diabetes: A 10-Step Guide to Getting Started



It’s the season for New Year’s resolutions, and if yours is to start exercising, you are not alone. Exercising, losing weigh,t and being healthier are among the top New Year’s resolutions every year.

Whether this is your first attempt or you have tried starting exercising before, you probably have a few questions about exercising safely with diabetes and without damaging your diabetes management. You may have even started out before with the best intentions, but had to stop again due to too many blood sugar fluctuations. It’s frustrating and can be scary, which is why it’s one of the first things I discuss with my clients before they start a new fitness routine.

Here are a few ideas for how to get started and some tools for successfully sticking to your new year’s resolution throughout 2016.

  1. Set a goal: Be ambitious but realistic and take into account that you will spend a lot of time in the beginning learning your body’s limits and how it reacts to your workouts. Don’t expect dramatic results overnight.
  2. Get the greenlight from your healthcare provider: Especially if you have never exercised before, it’s always a good idea to get a health check before getting started, just to be safe.
  3. Keep everything constant for the first week: Before you lace up your sneakers, I suggest you spend 5-7 days figuring out your baseline. Settle on a meal plan (that means eating pretty much the same menu for up to a week) and track exactly how much insulin you need to be well managed. Then add in exercise, and adjust your insulin needs accordingly.
  4. Get to know your body by measuring everything (food, insulin, activity) and take notes: As you add in more variables, it becomes more and more important that you understand how they impact your glucose levels.
  5. Understand that different kinds of exercise impact your blood glucose differently: In general, most people living with diabetes find that cardiovascular exercise (walking, running, biking) will make their blood sugar drop while strength training can make their blood sugar increase. Learn how your body reacts and adjust your insulin accordingly, or work with your healthcare team to set new insulin levels.
  6. Eat to perform and never starve yourself: If you are looking to build just a little bit of muscle, you need to be in calorie surplus, and even if you are looking to drop body fat, starving yourself is counterproductive. This article about How To Calculate Your Daily Calorie Need will help you figure out how much to eat.
  7. Always bring emergency glucose: When working out, there is a high risk of your sugars behaving irrationally. Until you understand what’s going on, you most likely will experience low blood sugars, so be prepared and bring a fast carbohydrate source. I like glucose tablets since a few easily fit in my pocket and I actually like the taste, but use what works best for you.
  8. If you have CGM, use it: Utilizing a CGM device to understand patterns and catch high or low blood sugars before they happen is priceless. It can give you peace of mind and help you get into your workout routine faster. You can read about my experience with CGM here.
  9. Involve a friend and get professional help if needed: Not only can working out with a buddy (significant other, friend, co-worker) keep you accountable to your workouts, it is also just fun to start a new routine with somebody else. A buddy can help you push yourself and help you be on the lookout for low blood sugars. If you want to start resistance training for the first time, I recommend working with a professional personal trainer to learn how to perform the different exercises correctly.
  10. Have patience: Change takes time. No matter what your goal is, you won’t reach it overnight. I believe strongly in committing to long-term lifestyle changes that you can continue for the rest of your life. If you see your New Year’s resolution as a temporary thing you just need to get over with, you will most likely quit in February or March without getting the results you want.

You will have low blood sugars and high blood sugars when you start exercising and that’s ok, as long as you adjust and learn from them. Whenever I make significant changes to either my diet or workout routine, I usually expect at least a week of trial and error before I get my new carb ratios and insulin sensitivity right. It takes time but it’s definitely worth it!

—Christel Oerum, Guest Writer for Glu

About the author: Christel is a blogger, certified personal trainer and fitness personality. She has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1997. She writes about Health, Fitness and how to be Fit With Diabetes on Diabetes Strong. She trains people with diabetes from across the globe and supports them in meeting their fitness goals.


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