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Being Active When You Have Diabetes

Like anyone else, kids with diabetes are healthier if they get plenty of exercise. They also have the same chances of doing well at sports. Whether you want to go for the gold or just go hiking, diabetes doesn't have to hold you back.

How Can Exercise Help Kids With Diabetes?

Exercise is an important part of managing diabetes and staying healthy. Exercise can:

  • help your body use insulin (say: IN-suh-lin), a hormone that helps turn food into energy
  • strengthen your muscles
  • improve coordination, balance, and endurance
  • boost your energy level
  • help you have better moods and less stress
  • lower your risk of heart disease and cancer as you get older

All exercise is great, from walking the dog or riding a bike to playing team sports. Just try to be active every day. Changing your exercise habits might be hard at first, so start small and slowly work your way up until you can do more.

How Can Kids With Diabetes Get Started Exercising?

Talk to your doctor to help you get ready to exercise or join a sport. Your doctor will help you figure out how often to test your blood sugar. You might need to do it before, during, and after exercise.

Your doctor will also let you know when you should take insulin, how much you should take, and how you should take it. If you inject insulin, talk to your doctor about the best spots to inject. If you use an insulin pump, talk to your doctor about making sure it's not in the way when you play.

Also make sure to:

  • Follow a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. You might need extra snacks before, during, or after exercise. Stick to healthy foods like fruit or nuts and choose water over sugary drinks.
  • Bring your to-go kit. Make sure it has all your testing supplies, medicines like insulin and glucagon, emergency contact information, water, snacks, and anything else you need to manage your diabetes.
  • Wear your medical alert bracelet.
  • Tell your coaches about your diabetes. Explain what you need to do to manage diabetes before, during, and after a practice or game. Your parents can help you with this if you want.
  • Go easy on yourself. You're in control of your own health. Feel free to stop playing a sport or exercising if you need to drink water, eat a snack for low blood sugar, go to the bathroom, or check your glucose levels. Also, stop if you feel any signs that something is wrong.
  • Sit out if you're feeling sick. Don't try to push through it if you're not feeling well because this can make you feel even worse.

When Should I Take a Break?

When kids with diabetes exercise, they can get get low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia (say: hi-po-gly-SEE-me-uh). Or they can get high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia (say: hi-per-gly-SEE-me-uh).

You may have low blood sugar if you:

  • are sweating
  • feel lightheaded
  • are shaky or weak
  • are hungry
  • have a headache
  • feel anxious or confused, or have trouble concentrating

You may have high blood sugar if you:

  • feel very thirsty
  • have to pee a lot
  • feel very tired
  • have blurry vision

Keep an eye on cuts, scrapes, or blisters. Be sure to tell your parents or doctor right away if any injuries get darker in color, are swollen, or ooze pus — they might be infected, which can make your diabetes harder to control.

Kids with type 1 diabetes shouldn't exercise if they have substances called ketones (say: KEE-tones) in their blood. When this happens, exercise can make things worse, and you can get very sick. Your doctor will tell you how to figure out if you have ketones, how to treat this problem if you do, and how to get back on track.

You're All Set!

After you've met with your doctor and talked about what you need to do, you're ready to get started. Get moving and have fun!

Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date Reviewed: Feb 1, 2024

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