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Starting off on the right foot

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Why physical activity is so important for kids with type 1 diabetes. 

Regular exercise is good for everyone, with or without diabetes. But for kids and teens living with type 1 diabetes, being active can make an extra big difference in how well they do.

How exercise helps a child’s type 1 diabetes:

  1. Helps lower their blood glucose
  2. Improves their body’s ability to use insulinInsulinA hormone made by the beta cells in the pancreas that helps glucose move from the blood into the cells. Insulin is also an injectable medicine that is used to treat diabetes by controlling the level of glucose in the blood.
  3. Helps them develop healthy habits for the future

Physical activity is also important for maintaining a healthy weight in both kids and adults. That’s something you often hear about with children fighting type 2 diabetes. But watching weight is just as important for kids with type 1. 

Not so fast...more about kids, exercise, and blood glucose

physical activity basketball skateboard snacks juice plate of food

If you are caring for someone living with diabetes, it’s important to know how exercise affects their blood glucose. Regular physical activity can be very helpful in lowering blood glucose levels. But that’s not always the case!

General rule: Physical activity lowers blood glucose.

Sometimes the combination of too much insulin and exercise can lead to low blood glucose. Try to prevent this by:

  • Lowering your child’s insulin dose for the meal beforehand
  • Giving him or her some fruit juice or a fast-acting carbohydrate snack before exercise

Exception to that rule: Short periods of intensive exercise ("anaerobic exercise" like biking hard) can raise blood glucose.

If there is a big rise in blood glucose, test for ketonesKetonesOrganic compounds produced when the body breaks down fats and fatty acids to use as fuel. This is most likely to occur when the body does not have enough glucose or carbohydrates or the body cannot use glucose effectively. Because high levels of ketones are dangerous, a urine test is one way to check the level of ketones in your body.. In extreme cases, these types of exercises may lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)DKA is a condition that occurs when there is a lack of glucose in the body and a buildup of ketones in the blood. Ketones are made when the body uses fat for energy instead of glucose. This can happen when the ratio of glucose to insulin in the body is improper, so your cells don’t get the glucose they need to use for energy. .

After very hard exercise, it is important to have a meal with a good amount of complex carbohydratesCarbohydrateCarbohydrates are the main kinds of food that raise blood glucose levels. Your digestive system changes carbohydrates into glucose, and then uses this glucose as a source of energy for your cells.

There are 3 main types of carbohydrates in food: starches (complex carbohydrates), sugars (simple carbohydrates), and fiber. Fiber is the part of plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, and nuts, that you can’t digest.
. Talk to your doctor about whether it may be necessary to adjust your child's insulin dose after exercise.

Remember to discuss your child’s physical activity plan with their diabetes care teamDiabetes care teamYour diabetes care team may include a primary care doctor, a diabetes and hormone doctor (endocrinologist), a registered nurse, a diabetes educator, a dietitian, a heart doctor (cardiologist), a foot doctor (podiatrist), an eye doctor (ophthalmologist/optometrist), a kidney doctor (nephrologist), a dentist, a pharmacist, and a mental health professional. before putting it into practice. 

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