How Children With Type 1 Diabetes Can Exercise Safely

How Children With Type 1 Diabetes Can Exercise Safely

Exercise is an important part of managing diabetes. It just needs some planning. Encourage and help your child or teen with diabetes to take part in physical activity.

Your child can exercise safely

A video from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), USA.

Key points to remember about exercising safely for children with type 1 diabetes

  • exercise is an important part of managing diabetes - it just needs some planning
  • children and teens with type 1 diabetes can fully participate in PE classes and team sports at school 
  • it's important to have good communication between you, your child, the healthcare team and your child's PE teacher or coach at school
  • an insulin plan (specially written for your child) will help to make sure your child has good control of glucose levels during and after exercise

Can your child or teen with type 1 diabetes exercise safely?

Yes. Exercise is an important part of managing diabetes. It just needs some planning. Encourage and help your child or teen with diabetes to take part in physical activity.

Graphic showing childhood exercise needs

Can my child with type 1 diabetes participate in PE or sports at school?

Yes. Children and teens with type 1 diabetes can fully participate in physical education classes (PE) and team sports at school. 

Good communication is important

It's important to have good communication between you, your child, the healthcare team and your child's PE teacher or coach at school.

An insulin plan will help control glucose levels

An insulin plan (specially written for your child) will help to make sure your child has good control of glucose levels during and after exercise. The adults supervising your child need training to recognise and treat low blood glucose levels. Your child should have easy access to blood glucose monitoring equipment and fast-acting carbohydrate food. 

Does exercise always lower blood glucose levels?

  • usually, aerobic physical activity (such as walking, cycling, and general play) tends to lower blood glucose (BG) levels
  • but, anaerobic physical activity (such as sprinting, hockey, or weightlifting) tends to increase blood glucose levels
  • many forms of team and individual sports (such as rugby or netball) and children's playground activities are a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic activity

Will exercise cause hypoglycaemia?        

Children and teens with type 1 diabetes are at increased risk of low blood glucose levels (hypoglycaemia). This may happen during and immediately after exercise. Or, there may be a delay of several hours so that low blood glucose levels happen during sleep. 

Hypoglycaemia may happen for a number of reasons:

  • increased sensitivity to insulin from exercising
  • relatively high levels of insulin in the blood, and 
  • a decrease in the response of the hormones which help the body to respond to low blood glucose levels 

Graphic showing the association of hypoglycaemia and physical activity

Can exercise cause hyperglycaemia?

Exercise also can cause high blood glucose levels (hyperglycaemia).

Hyperglycaemia may happen:

  • during high-intensity anaerobic exercise such as sprinting, and
  • in children and teens who do not have well-controlled glucose levels
  • when emotional stress during competition sometimes triggers high blood glucose levels

The content on this page has been approved by the Clinical Network for Children and Young People with Diabetes, Paediatric Society of New Zealand. 

Graphics are screenshots taken from a video from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), USA.

This page last reviewed 01 May 2020.
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