How to Avoid Hypoglycemia During Exercise

Exercise Tips for People with Diabetes

exercise low blood sugar

Exercise is excellent for people with diabetes—both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes—but you have to be careful about hypoglycemia.  Hypoglycemia is when your blood glucose level (your blood sugar level) drops too low.  To avoid hypoglycemia during exercise, you should learn to recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia while you are exercising. Also, you can test your blood sugar before, during, and after exercise.

How You Can Become Hypoglycemic when Exercising
When you exercise, your body needs more energy than it normally does (that certainly makes sense—you’re expending more energy than you normally do). That extra energy comes from the sugar—the glucose—your body stores.

When you exercise, you speed up your metabolism and use up the glucose in your bloodstream faster.  That’s right: Exercise makes it easier for your body to use glucose, whether you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, making exercise incredibly beneficial for people with diabetes.

However, it is possible to burn too much glucose—making your blood glucose level drop too low, which is hypoglycemia.

If your blood glucose level drops, your body detects that it is exhausting its energy supply. It will start to pull sugar supplies from your fat, muscles, and other body tissues. This can be dangerous, especially if your body is starved enough for sugar to make you faint.

How to Avoid Hypoglycemia During Exercise
To avoid hypoglycemia, you will need to learn what generally works for you when you exercise; you’ll need to pay attention to your body and how it reacts to different types of exercise and levels of intensity.

Because your body does not always respond the same way to exercise and activity, you will need to be prepared for emergencies, too. Good rules of thumb for avoiding hypoglycemia during exercise include:

  • Check your blood glucose level before starting to exercise.
  • Eat a snack before starting to exercise if you are in the normal range.
  • If you recognize symptoms of low blood glucose as you exercise, stop, test your blood glucose level, and treat yourself with a fast acting carbohydrate (e.g., glucose tablets) according to the results.
  • Check your blood glucose level when you finish exercising.
  • If you are low after exercise, use glucose tablets and snacks to adjust blood sugar after exercising.

You, your clinician, and your certified diabetes educator will refine an even more personalized exercise plan for you.

Exercise is one of the best ways to control blood glucose and defend against the long-term complications of diabetes (diabetic neuropathy and cardiovascular complications, for example). If you just remember how to detect and treat low blood glucose while you exercise, you will avoid hypoglycemia—while enjoying all of the emotional and health benefits of exercise for people with diabetes.  

Updated on: June 14, 2017
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