5 Things I’ve Learned about Exercising with Diabetes

It’s November 26th which means it’s day 26 of the Happy Diabetic Challenge! Today’s prompt is about diabetes and exercise. There’s so much I could say on the subject, so I decided to settle for a bit of a round-up post that explains what I’ve learned about exercising with diabetes over the years…

I exercise on a daily basis.

This statement is not a faux-humble brag, nor is it an exaggeration. Unless I’m sick, I work out in some form or fashion every single day. My workouts will vary in their intensity, but one thing is consistent: My diabetes plays a major role in how long, when, and what type of exercise I choose to do.

Since I grew up playing sports, I’ve had just about my entire lifetime with diabetes to figure out how to make it peacefully coexist – or, at least, merely coexist – with whatever exercise routine I’m completing. As a result, I’ve learned quite a few lessons along the way, and I’ve come to recognize several patterns that my diabetes follows when I exercise:

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My diabetes is practically BFFs with exercise.

1. My diabetes is happiest if I work out first thing in the morning. I never thought I’d be the type of person who works out before eating breakfast, but trial and error has taught me that this is the way to go in order to better manage my blood sugars during a workout. Fasting exercise has worked wonders on my blood sugars: I never have to worry about dealing with an insulin-on-board-inducing low blood sugar, nor do I have to be concerned about what the food I ate prior to my workout will do to my blood sugars while I’m exercising.

2. Different types of exercise affect me (and my blood sugars) in different ways. Many people probably relate to me when I say that weightlifting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) often yield stable blood sugars during workouts but then trigger the need for more insulin hours later, whereas cardio (such as dancing, running, or circuit training) usually causes sudden drops in blood sugar levels. Of course, it depends on the timing, duration, and intensity of the workout, but it’s interesting to see how different types will require me to react in different ways in terms of my diabetes care.

3. Sometimes I need to suspend my insulin, sometimes I don’t. Again, whether or not I suspend my insulin – or even run a temp basal – depends heavily on when and how I exercise. If I’m doing my morning routine (which happens 75% of the time), then I don’t really do anything with my basal rates: I just keep them running normally. But if I’m taking a midday walk or decide to exercise in the evening, I often have to do something about my basal rate to avoid crashes or spikes. Insulin suspensions or temp basals are wait-and-see situations in those cases.

4. The hardest part about exercise and diabetes is that I can do the exact same routine every day and get different results. If I worked out at precisely the same time, for the same amount of time, and with the same sequence of movements every single day, then…my diabetes wouldn’t give a damn. Every day of life with diabetes is different because of the variables that inevitably cross my path. Things like mood, that time o’ the month, stress, diet, illness, and more can cause major changes in my blood sugar levels. It’s my job to react accordingly to those changes, but that doesn’t mean I always hit the mark on the first try. So with that in mind, it can sometimes be hard to accurately predict how my blood sugar will fare after every single exercise routine. Just thinking about it can be more exhausting than the workout itself.

5. My diabetes is my biggest motivator/fuels my desire to exercise. At the end of the day, I work out because of my diabetes, not because I’m trying to sculpt washboard abs (though I wouldn’t complain if that actually happened). My diabetes loves exercise: It results in an increase in insulin sensitivity and it helps tame my blood sugar levels overall. How could I not be motivated to work out every day with outcomes so tangible?