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Helping Your Young Athlete With Type 1 Diabetes

Kids with type 1 diabetes can play sports and exercise at the same level as other kids. In fact, staying active helps insulin work better and can keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Exercise also helps strengthen bones and muscles and relieves stress.

Be Smart About Fitness

Does your child want to run fast, lead their team to victory, or reach a personal fitness goal? To do their best, kids with type 1 diabetes need to know how to exercise safely.

To get started:

  • Ask your diabetes care team for advice. Your care team may be excited to hear your child is an athlete. That’s because the team knows physical activity can help keep diabetes under control. Athletes with type 1 diabetes need to test their blood sugar more often and make changes to their insulin and diet. Your care team can tell you how to do this.
  • Pack diabetes supplies. Packing a gym bag before a practice, game, or competition may come naturally to your young athlete. With type 1 diabetes, your child should add a few more essential items. Put together a diabetes “to-go” kit with insulin, their blood glucose meter, fast-acting glucose in tablet or gel form, and glucagon. Tossing in extra water and some healthy snacks (like fruit or crackers), juice, and candy in case of low blood sugars is also a good idea.
  • Keep the coach in the loop. A coach is responsible for the safety of the team. If your child is on a team, talk to the coach about your child’s diabetes, what to watch for, and how to handle problems. Give the coach written instructions that include: the symptoms of low blood sugars and high blood sugars; where your child’s “to-go” kit is; and how to give insulin or glucagon. Be sure they know when to call 911 and how to reach you in case of an emergency.

Help Your Child Take Control

Type 1 diabetes needs to be kept in check throughout life. While your child is young is the perfect time to empower them to take good care of themselves. Kids of all ages can learn to do this. As your child gets older, they can gradually take charge of their diabetes care.

Encourage your child to:

  • Follow their diabetes care plan. The care plan spells out your child’s target blood sugar range for exercise, when to test blood sugar and check for ketones, how much insulin to take, and what to eat and when. If your child has questions, the care team can answer them.
  • Stop exercising if they don’t feel well. Teach your child to listen to their body if something doesn’t feel right. And, if your child’s blood sugar gets too low or too high during practice or a game, they should tell the coach. Remind your athlete that it is OK and wise to sit out when they need to.
  • Watch for signs of:
    • low blood sugar (hypoglycemia): This can happen during or after exercise when the body has used up much of its stored sugar, especially if insulin levels are still high after an insulin shot or bolus (insulin given through an insulin pump). Signs can include sweating; having a headache; and feeling lightheaded, shaky, weak, anxious, hungry, or confused. Severe cases can cause fainting or seizures.
    • high blood sugar (hyperglycemia): This can happen during exercise because the muscles need more energy, and the body responds by releasing extra glucose into the blood. If there’s not enough insulin, the sugar will stay in the blood. Signs can include dehydration, peeing more than usual, being really thirsty, tiredness, feeling weak, and blurry vision.
  • Speak up for themselves. Encourage your child to say what they need. If they feel like their blood sugar is low, or they feel unwell, they should tell the coach. Speaking up is a skill they can practice in their sport and use anywhere, including in school and at home. And it’s a great way to build confidence.

It’s easy for your child to stay active when they have a sport or activity they enjoy. Support your athlete’s passion and help them exercise safely. Building healthy habits today will set them on a healthy course for life.

Reviewed by: Cheryl Patterson, RD, LDN, CDCES
Date Reviewed: Aug 1, 2021

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