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Exercise tips from a dietitian living with diabetes

The content in this article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider regarding your individual health needs.
Exercise can be extremely beneficial for people living with diabetes. It can help control blood sugar, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and assist with weight management.1 It’s important to understand how exercise can affect blood sugar levels and the importance of monitoring glucose during exercise.
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1. Keep sugary snacks close by for potential lows

Exercise can cause blood sugar to drop too low, so it’s a good idea to have snacks or drinks with simple sugars close by during workouts. Choose snacks you can quickly consume when needed. Simple carbohydrates in things like fruit juice, sports drinks, candy, and glucose tablets are more quickly digested and absorbed into the bloodstream. That means they can raise your blood sugar at a faster rate to get you back to a safer glucose range.2
Consider snacks that are easy to carry. If you’re going on a run and not carrying a bag, fruit snacks are a good source of simple carbs you can keep in your pocket. For a hike or other longer-term endurance exercises where you can carry a bag, something with both a carbohydrate and protein/fat (protein bar, apple and peanut butter, sandwich, etc.) are good options**.
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**These snacks that incorporate carbs and fats/proteins are not fast-acting and will not quickly raise blood sugar the way simple carbs do so they should not be used for quick treatment of a low.
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2. Use your Dexcom CGM System to prepare and monitor

CGM can help you decide what snacks and insulin or medication you’ll need for your workout. Because your CGM shows you when you’re going low or high, you can decide what adjustments to make or whether you need to grab a snack or take insulin. If you use a pump or smart insulin pen, checking insulin on board (IOB)—how much insulin is active in your system—before you start can be helpful. Considering your IOB along with your current CGM reading can help you determine the right type and number of snacks. Ideally but not always, IOB will be low before exercise; CGM can help you be aware and adjust as needed.
Your Dexcom CGM System can also help you during and after workouts, so you can make real-time treatment decisions based on your current glucose level. Keep in mind that different types of exercise affect blood glucose differently; for example, high intensity or anaerobic workouts can cause it to spike.3
Pay attention to how your body reacts to different workouts by checking your CGM readings and trend arrows periodically and always remember to discuss treatment decisions with a healthcare professional.
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3. Ease into it

Sometimes getting yourself motivated to exercise or simply getting to the gym is the hardest part. Everyone needs motivation, and motivation comes from motion!
Start with setting a small, approachable, and achievable goal like aiming to do 20 minutes of exercise. Small wins feel good, and they add up! Consistent wins tend to keep the motivation going! Research suggests that consistency is more important than duration. That means short 20-minute workouts on a regular basis can have more health benefit than doing 2-hour workouts periodically.4,5
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4. Find the right activity for you

Consider these factors when choosing activities that can help you reach your exercise goals and stay consistent:
  • Which activity do you enjoy the most? Do you like to zone in and be alone during a workout or join others, have support, and socialize? Maybe a combination? Choose activities you like so you’re more likely to want to repeat them. If you like working out with others, team sports, walking and running clubs, and group classes are great options. If you prefer to exercise independently, choose a gym or home workout, or go for solo walks or runs.
  • Will the activity raise or lower your blood glucose? More intense workouts can raise your hormone levels, such as adrenaline, which can cause increased blood sugar. Activities that are likely to cause this spike are weightlifting and high intensity interval training (also known as HIIT). Most aerobic or cardiovascular activities can lower your glucose. Using your CGM can help you monitor your glucose before, during, and after workouts to help stay in a safe range or adjust as needed.
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In summary, start small, get the body moving and find a fun way to do it! Find what works best for you and use your CGM to monitor your glucose levels as you go. Always carry convenient snacks to treat if your glucose gets low. And remember, always listen to your body and symptoms. Talk to your doctor about how your exercise plan is working for you and how best to adjust. You can even share your CGM data with your healthcare provider using Dexcom Clarity to help guide your discussions.*,†

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*Patient must first sync their Dexcom CGM data with the Dexcom Clarity app and consent to share their data with their healthcare provider. An internet connection is required for patients to send their glucose data to Dexcom Clarity via a compatible smart device: dexcom.com/compatibility. Do not use Dexcom Clarity for treatment decisions such as dosing insulin. The user should follow instructions on the continuous glucose monitoring system.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Get active! www.cdc.gov. Accessed 6/29/23. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/active.html. 2 National Institutes of Health (NIH). Counting Carbs? Understanding Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load. www.NIH.gov. Accessed 6/16/23. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2012/12/counting-carbs. 3 American Diabetes Association. Anaerobic Exercise and Diabetes. www.diabetes.org. Accessed 6/29/23. https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/fitness/anaerobic-exercise-diabetes. 4 Sato S, et al. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 2022;32(5):833-843. 5 Yoshida R, et al. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 2022;32(11):1602-1614.
BRIEF SAFETY STATEMENT: Failure to use the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitoring System and its components according to the instructions for use provided with your device and available at https://www.dexcom.com/safety-information and to properly consider all indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, and cautions in those instructions for use may result in you missing a severe hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) or hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) occurrence and/or making a treatment decision that may result in injury. If your glucose alerts and readings from the Dexcom CGM do not match symptoms, use a blood glucose meter to make diabetes treatment decisions. Seek medical advice and attention when appropriate, including for any medical emergency.
 
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