Get Moving with T1D: Exercise Basics


Editor’s note: This content was originally produced by JDRF, shared here as part of the JDRF – Beyond Type 1 Alliance. You can find more valuable content about exercising with T1D in JDRF’s exercise guide.

If you don’t yet have an exercise routine you love, we understand that starting one with type 1 diabetes can be daunting. Over the next few weeks—to help you get started or hone in on the best routine for you—we’ll be sharing helpful tips and tricks on how to exercise safely with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Of course, physical activity and exercise are important for everyone—they help keep us healthy and feeling great. Exercise is especially important for people living with diabetes because it can help lower blood glucose levels, which is linked to fewer long term complications. 

Keep these tips in mind when just starting out:

  • If exercise is new to you or if you’ve been living with diabetes for more than 10 years, check with your healthcare provider before your new routine.
  • During and after exercising, always have a source of rapid acting glucose, like glucose tabs, gels, or a sweetened beverage.
  • It’s best to wear medical ID and have a cell phone with you in case you need to call for help.

When getting started, keep in mind that all physical activity is good! Building in pockets of movement to your day will help you reach the 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise that is recommended for all adults. 

Everyday activities can be part of your exercise plan—for example taking the stairs or parking on the far end of the parking lot—can contribute to your overall physical activity for the day. Be mindful of breaking up periods of sitting with stretching and walking breaks. 

When planning dedicated workouts, intensity matters as much as duration. In general, you can get a similar level benefit from doing a more intense activity for less time as you would get from doing something less intense for a longer period of time. 

For kids, 60 minutes of daily physical activity is recommended and all movement counts! Organized sports, P.E. and general play time are all great. Children over the age of 12 can also start doing strength training a few times a week on non-consecutive days. 

For everyone with diabetes, it’s important to know that your blood glucose levels can go up or down depending on the type of exercise, intensity and setting. Consider whether your workout is aerobic, anaerobic, or both to anticipate in which direction your blood sugar may move. 

Aerobic exercise like moderate intensity jogging, distance swimming, or cycling, tends to cause blood glucose levels to drop during or immediately after the activity. Anaerobic exercise like weight lifting or short bursts of sprinting can increase blood sugar levels during the workout. Some forms of exercise, like soccer or basketball, are a mix of both, so blood sugar level changes can be a bit less predictable.

It’s important to check blood glucose levels before and after activity, as well as midway through for exercise that lasts more than one hour. Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) can be helpful, but keep in mind CGM readings can be delayed by up to 20-30 minutes during some types of exercise.

The more you exercise and analyze the results, the more you’ll learn how different types of exercise affect your body and blood sugar levels. 

Watch the full video below to learn more!