Jewels Doskicz is a registered nurse, freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. Jewels is the moderator of Diabetic Connect’s weekly #DCDE Twitter chat, and she and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.

How, when, and what we choose to fuel our bodies with has a direct impact not only on our physical well-being, but ultimately on diabetes control.

Studies show the benefits exercise and diet have on our bodies. In conjunction, they increase “insulin sensitivity and glycemic control” and decrease “the need for oral medications or insulin” in those living with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

For those living with type 1 diabetes, there’s a unique set of challenges when it comes to exercising and blood glucose control. Thankfully, we can garner all the health benefits when exercise is planned for appropriately.

Energy sources

Avoiding blood sugar highs or lows before, during, and after exercise to the best of one’s ability is judicious. Not surprisingly, exercise proves to be a much more enjoyable experience when it’s in combination with good glucose control.

Exercising on an empty stomach may sound like a good idea, but it may not be the best choice—especially with type 1 diabetes. You may be tempted to approach exercise sans food to avoid low blood sugars that may occur with active insulin on board. But in doing so, the energy source has to come from somewhere else.

Our bodies are smartly built with reserve tanks, but they have their limits too. Regardless of the activity at hand, the body primarily utilizes glycogen for energy. What happens when glycogen is depleted? The body begins its search for another energy source, such as fat or protein.

When glycogen stores are depleted, blood sugar drops and those annoying feelings of hypoglycemia kick in. With diabetes, there’s no choice but to stop exercising and fix the situation at hand with fast-acting sugar sources.

There will be trial and error when it comes to exercising, but over time you’ll pinpoint individual patterns and become proficient at adapting to them.

Safety first

Managing food and insulin is at the heart of mastering successful exercise with type 1 diabetes. It takes patience; there will be low blood sugars even when you’re well practiced. Always exercise with some means to raise a low blood sugar like a power bar or energy blocks.

Over time, people living with type 2 diabetes may experience decreases in their medications when engaging in regular exercise. Bring these trends to the attention of your health are provider if you feel like a medication adjustment is in order.

It’s important to remember that we’re all similar in nature, but what works for one person may not work for another when it comes to exercise and diabetes. When insulin is in the mix, it can certainly up the ante of disease management and exercise safety—with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Learn how to do these things for better exercise results with diabetes:

• Adjust long-acting insulin doses to accommodate for a new exercise regime
• Change carbohydrate to insulin ratios prior to exercise
• Pinpoint optimal times to exercise
• Understand when free insulin levels are at their lowest to avoid low blood sugars when exercising
• Find an appropriate amount of free carbohydrates to consume prior to exercise
• Fuel back up after exercise to avoid lows later or during the night

“Exercise scientists and athletes with T1D alike say that people with T1D can exercise safely and effectively," according to JDRF. Don’t let fear paralyze you from engaging in physical activities. The benefits are huge—your body, mind, and blood sugars will thank you.

As always, seek assistance from your expert healthcare team if you decide to make significant changes in your health routine.

To learn more about exercise and diabetes:

Exercise is Crucial in Type 1 Diabetes Care
Exercise Habits to Ditch
Exercise is Your Best Friend