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Diabetes and Your Child: Safe Exercise
Like food and insulin, exercise plays a big role in managing your child’s blood sugar. It helps reduce the amount of glucose (sugar) buildup in the blood. This buildup is called high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). But too much exercise can cause your child’s blood sugar to get too low. This is called low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). That’s why it’s important to monitor your child’s blood sugar closely when he or she exercises. You will have to balance exercise with food and insulin to make sure your child is in his or her target range for blood sugar.
Prevention is key
The best way to manage your child’s blood sugar during exercise is to plan for it. These are some other things you can do to help keep your child safe during exercise:
When your child starts an exercise program, check blood sugar before, during, and after exercise to determine how your child's blood sugar is affected by exercise. Then check your child’s blood sugar before and after each exercise session.
In an age-appropriate manner, teach your child how to recognize critical symptoms and how to manage his or her diabetes.
Have your child eat a snack before exercising when his or her blood sugar is below target range. Try half a sandwich, a piece of fruit, or an energy bar.
Don't use carbohydrate sources high in protein, such as milk or nuts. These may increase the insulin response to dietary carbohydrates.
Check that your child’s fast-acting glucose tablets and emergency glucagon kit are nearby. Glucagon is a shot that raises blood sugar quickly.
If your child's blood sugar is 250 mg/dL or above, test for ketones. If ketone levels are high, don't let your child exercise and call your child's healthcare provider. If ketone levels are low, your child may do mild to moderate intensity exercise. Don't let your child do intense exercise until blood sugar levels are below 250 mg/dL. Intense exercise may make blood sugar levels go higher.
Blood sugar can get low when your child exercises. Lows can last up to 8 hours after exercise. That’s why checking your child’s blood sugar before and after playing sports is so important. Here are some other tips for making sure your child is safe during sports:
Tell coaches that your child has diabetes.
Give your child’s coach a list of low blood sugar symptoms. Also, give the coach instructions explaining what to do when the child has a low. Be sure the coach knows when to call 911.
Pack high-carb snacks for your child. This could be a granola bar and a sports drink.
Check that your child has fast-acting sugar, such as glucose tablets or a snack, on hand in case his or her blood sugar gets low. Be sure the coach knows where the snacks and tablets are kept.
Ask the coach to keep snacks, glucose tablets, and glucagon in the team sports bag. Make sure the coach or another adult is trained to use the glucagon.
Don't let your child practice or play in a game if his or her blood sugar is too high and ketones are present. Again, be sure the coach knows about ketones and that your child should not exercise if they are present.
Playing it safe with friends
Your child’s blood sugar can get low when he or she is away from home. Here are some tips to keep your child from having lows when he or she is away from home:
Tell the parents of your child’s friends about your child’s diabetes. If your child doesn’t mind, you can also teach his or her friends about diabetes.
Teach your child’s friends and their parents about diabetes and how to spot and treat lows. Treating lows means using meals, snacks, and fast-acting sugar sources, such as glucose tablets or juice, to raise blood sugar back up to target range.
Pack prepared meals and snacks, when possible. This will make it easier for other parents to help your child avoid lows. Include a note telling the parent when your child should eat.
Check that your child and the adults in the home where he or she is visiting can contact you right away, if needed.
Talk to the parents about the dangers of severe low blood sugar. Also, tell parents when to call 911.
For more information about diabetes, visit these websites:
American Diabetes Association www.diabetes.org
Children with Diabetes www.childrenwithdiabetes.org
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation www.jdrf.org
Endocrine Society www.endocrine.org/topics/diabetes
Note: This sheet does not give all the information you need to care for your child with diabetes. Ask your child’s healthcare team for more information.
Online Medical Reviewer:
Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer:
Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer:
Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed:
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