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Primary Children's Hospital

Primary Children's Hospital
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How Being Active Helps Kids With Type 1 Diabetes

As the parent of a child with type 1 diabetes, you may wonder what level of activity is right them. Some parents want to know how exercise affects blood sugar levels. Other parents may question how to get their child moving and keep them motivated.

Exercise is a healthy habit for every child, including kids with type 1 diabetes. Here’s how to get your child moving and keep them motivated.

Exercise Is Good for Kids With Diabetes

There are many good reasons to keep your child active. Exercise can:

  • Help keep diabetes in check. Physical activity makes insulin work better in the body. When insulin works better, your child’s blood sugar levels are more likely to stay in a healthy range.
  • Increase your child’s energy. Kids who are active feel better and have more energy. This can help to boost your child’s mood. Exercise can also help kids relieve stress. It clears the mind and improves concentration, which can be helpful in school.
  • Build your child’s confidence and sense of accomplishment. Some kids may be hesitant to try a new activity. When your child starts a new activity, be sure to recognize their efforts. For example, you could say, “Wow, you look like you’re having fun riding that bike. I can see how hard you’re concentrating!” As your child learns a new skill, they’ll notice their own progress and gain confidence, boosting their self-esteem.

Whether your child walks the dog, rides a bike, or swims, they can start getting active by moving in small blocks of time and building up slowly. The goal, over time, is to help your child be active for 60 minutes a day on most days. Making a new exercise habit can be hard at first. But when your child starts to have fun and feel the benefits, you both may find it easier to stick to a plan.

Tips to Get Started

  • Find an activity your child enjoys. Together, look for activities that are right for your child’s age. A fun activity is easier to keep up with. Some kids prefer mixing it up with a variety of activities, like jumping rope, walking, and riding a bike.
  • Be a role model. Your actions give your child a clear message about what’s important to you. If you like to walk, swim, or shoot hoops at the neighborhood park already, good for you! Your child will see that you value fitness. You’re giving them a positive message that will stay with them for life.
  • Ask your diabetes care team for advice. It’s likely your child’s health care team told you exercise is good for controlling diabetes. Turn to your care team for ideas and guidance. For example, they may be able to share how other families made exercise a part of their daily routine. And be sure to ask the care team if you need to make changes to your child’s diet, insulin, or blood sugar testing schedule.
  • Remember to grab the “to-go” kit. When your child is exercising or is on the go, be sure they take their supplies with them. Make a “to-go” kit filled with the essentials, and it will be ready when your child needs it. The kit should contain insulin, water, your child’s blood glucose meter, fast-acting glucose in tablet or gel form, and glucagon. Your child will also want to bring some healthy snacks, like fruit or crackers, in case of low blood sugars. At first, it might seem like a lot to remember. But grabbing these items will become a regular part of their habit to be active, just like grabbing their jump rope or bike helmet.
  • Be mindful of your child’s blood sugar. You already know it’s important to check your child’s blood sugar. When your child is active, you’ll need to check it a few more times: before, during, and after exercise. Exercise can lower blood sugars, and checking it more often will keep you aware. The few extra checks will be worth the health benefits of your child being active. And you’ve got the care team to remind you when to check, what numbers to look for, and what to do if your child’s blood sugar is higher or lower than usual.

Staying active is a key part of keeping kids with type 1 diabetes healthy. Introducing exercise to your child now will let them to find out what they enjoy. And you’ll give them a healthy skill they can do throughout their life.

Reviewed by: Cheryl Patterson, RD, CDE
Date reviewed: July 2021