By Katherine Smith
Physical activity is a key part of most diabetes care plans. It can provide widespread benefits including weight loss/maintenance, increased energy, lower insulin resistance, and better regulation of blood sugar levels. While exercise is often recommended for patients with diabetes, it is also important to understand how physical activity can affect blood glucose levels.
Exercise-induced hypoglycemia is a common side effect of exercise for patients with diabetes. When the body is experiencing lower-than-normal low blood sugar levels after physical activity, physical symptoms from the lack of fuel (glucose) to the brain can be experienced. Patients who have been diagnosed with diabetes should be aware of their blood sugar levels and the symptoms experienced along with hypoglycemia when engaging in physical activity. Hypoglycemic episodes can occur up to 24 hours after exercise, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms. The best ways to recognize hypoglycemia are:
- Blood Glucose Level: The most accurate way to know whether or not a hypoglycemic episode is occuring is by measuring blood sugar levels before, during, and after exercise. If glucose levels are 100 mg/dL or lower, then steps should be taken to raise blood sugar levels. A simple-to-use touchscreen insulin pump that integrates with a CGM device can help make it easier for patients with diabetes to streamline managing blood glucose and insulin delivery.
- Mental Symptoms: Blood sugar levels can also affect how patients with diabetes feel and behave. Hypoglycemia can affect the brain’s ability to function normally and may cause things like headaches, confusion, dizziness, inability to concentrate, fatigue, and blurred vision.
- Physical Symptoms: When the body is lacking glucose in the blood, it will automatically respond by releasing hormones which can cause additional physical symptoms. These symptoms include hunger, shaking, increased heartbeat, and anxiety.
It is important to note that indicators of hypoglycemia vary from person to person. A hypoglycemic episode may cause a change in gait while running in one person and a tingling sensation in the fingers for another. Patients diagnosed with diabetes should be careful to listen to their bodies before, during and after exercise so that symptoms of hypoglycemia can be recognized.
If you have questions about exercise-induced diabetic hypoglycemia, how to treat it, or how to prevent it, contact your diabetes care team. They will be able to provide suggestions on when to monitor your blood sugar, how to accurately adjust your insulin for exercise, and what you can do to maintain a healthy glycemic level while following a physical fitness regimen.