Exercising and Type 1 Diabetes

Diabetes should not stop you living the life you want to lead and one of the key factors in allowing you to lead a healthy, normal lifestyle is engaging yourself in a good exercise regime.
We all know the importance of insulin when it comes to managing our diabetes. Physical activity is an incredibly useful tool for lowering blood sugar levels. It allows us to burn large amounts of glucose and improve our sensitivity to insulin. Exercise stimulates the muscles to produce more insulin receptors.

There are a whole host of benefits when it comes to a good, regular exercise regime:
  • Improves blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity. 
  • Increases the amount of calories used whilst sedentary (BMR). 
  • Helps in the process of losing body fat.
  • Increases good cholesterol whilst lowering bad cholesterol. 
  • Improves your sex drive.
  • Reduces fatigue and tiredness.
  • Increases strength and bone density.
  • Helps improves balance. 
  • Improve body composition – aka you’ll look better naked! 
Ryan Bradley, ND, MPH, a naturopathic doctor, clinical researcher and epidemiologist in San Diego, CA states:
“insulin fits into the insulin receptor like a key fits into the lock in a door. The key fits, turns and you pass through the door. Imagine insulin is the key, the insulin receptor is the lock and sugar is you – insulin fits into the receptor and sugar passes through the door. In diabetes it is as if someone stuck gum into the lock- the key no longer fits or functions properly. Now imagine if there was a way to make more doors – including some without locks! This is exactly what exercise, and especially resistance exercise, appears to do. Your body has the potential to make doors for glucose to be absorbed that do not require insulin to work – however exercise is the trigger for this process to occur.”
In essence – your body will respond better to the insulin you put in your body if you maintain a consistent exercise regime. 
The exercise itself can vary depending on what you enjoy. A fitness regime should only benefit your quality of life not ‘get in the way’ or become a chore. Find something you love to do whether it’s the gym, walking with your dog, football, swimming, tennis, rugby…the choice really is up to you but find something you’ll stick with for the long term. If you don’t like doing something in my experience it’s unlikely that it’ll be done for weeks, months or years on end.
For me, I’ve learnt that I can get in the gym 4 days a week and playing football once a week and that suits my lifestyle, diabetes management and overall goals. I’ve always been an active individual but since being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 22 in November 2011 I’ve found that my blood sugar levels are far better managed if I’m exercising on a regular basis and I’ve continuously educated myself on the importance of what exercise works best for me to lead a ‘normal’ life whilst managing my disease. It has helped me reduce my initial HbA1c from 14.6 down to 7.3 in the space of a few years.

The goal for the next few months is to get it down below the 7.0 mark. At the time of writing this I’m currently recovering from a trapped sciatic nerve (let me assure you – this is VERY painful). This has meant my physio has told me to stay off all exercise to try and help this for the next few weeks. As well as making me go stir crazy (I JUST WANT TO PLAY FOOTBALL!), I’ve definitely seen a slight increase in my overall glucose levels whilst using similar insulin levels as I would be if I were exercising. 
The most common fear I’ve come across whilst talking to other diabetics regarding exercise is the fear of having low blood sugar during or after their workout. My advice, especially if you’re just starting out, would be to take it slow and easy. No-one ever ran a marathon on their first day of training. Learn how your body reacts to exercise through regular testing of glucose levels before, during and after. Figure out when you need to eat before and after and listen to your body. It’s so much better and easier in the long run to get the basics right first so you can maintain that throughout the coming months and years. And just to be safe – always have something sugary near you if you need to combat a low. 

Until next time!


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Dan has been a Type 1 Diabetic since November 2011 and writes about his experiences living with two autoimmune conditions (Type 1 Diabetes and Ulcerative Colitis), nutrition, exercise and living an overall healthier life on his blog and via his social media platforms.

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