Exercise is a critical part of any diabetes management plan. The benefits of exercise for individuals with diabetes include a significant improvement in the ability of your body to use insulin and absorb glucose.

You should always speak with your physician before starting a new exercise routine or making any changes to your current exercise routine. Your health care professional will be able to help you develop an exercise routine that fits the needs of your diabetes management plan as well as the best time for exercise.

It is necessary to check blood glucose levels before exercising, during your workout routine, and after you have finished exercising. Using a touch screen insulin pump with integrated continuous glucose monitoring can help make monitoring glucose levels and administering insulin during exercise more manageable. There are now touch screen models available that can display all your important data on one screen.

Check blood sugar levels before exercising

Get a read on your blood glucose levels about 30 minutes before you begin exercising. This will give you an indication as to whether or not you have sufficient glucose levels for exercise.Mayoclinic.org provides the following guidelines:

< 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) If a blood glucose reading is less than 100 mg/dL before beginning a workout, it is advisable to eat an appropriate snack to bring blood glucose levels up. Wait approximately 15-20 minutes after eating a snack to re-test glucose levels.

100 – 250 mg/dL This is a safe blood glucose level for beginning an exercise routine.

≥ 250 mg/dL This amount of glucose is not suitable for exercise. A glucose reading of 250 mg/dL or more may indicate the presence of ketones in the system.  Ketones are an indication that the body does not have sufficient insulin for blood sugar control. Too many ketones in the body can cause blood to become extremely acidic and cause ketoacidosis. Test for ketones through a urinalysis, and wait until there is an absence of ketones in the urine before exercising.

≥ 300 mg/dL This level is a red light. It is not safe to exercise when glucose levels are this high due to the risk of severe dehydration or ketoacidosis, which can lead to diabetic coma.

Check blood sugar levels throughout workout

If you are just beginning a new workout routine or are planning a more strenuous workout, blood glucose levels should be constantly monitored. Moderate to strenuous exercise can cause a severe drop in blood glucose levels causing hypoglycemia. It is important to be aware of the symptoms of hypoglycemia:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Shakiness
  • Feeling weak or fatigued
  • Clamminess
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Irritability

Ensure that access to assistance is available in the event that medical attention may be needed. Inform the exercise facility about your diabetes diagnosis and about the risk of low blood sugar during exercise. By informing those around you, they will be more prepared to help you. You should also consider wearing a medical ID bracelet in case of emergency.

Check blood sugar levels after finishing a workout routine

Our bodies are designed to replace the glucose that it uses during exercise. However, low blood sugar is possible several hours after exercise, and this effect can last up to 12 to 24 hours after very strenuous exercise. For this reason, it is important to continue to check your blood glucose levels in the hours following a workout.

Starting with mild exercise and gradually work up to a more moderate routine will help your body adjust. Working alongside your health care provider and your diabetes management team to develop an exercise routine that best meets your needs.