Having a child receive a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes can be an extremely overwhelming and anxiety-filled experience. The first few months are usually spent getting to grips with the disease and developing a treatment plan with the help of a health care team. While treatment plans are personalised to each child, they’ll usually include steps such as taking insulin, consistently checking blood sugar levels, eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly.
While it’s commonly thought that children with type 1 diabetes can’t, or shouldn’t, exercise, this is completely untrue. In fact, exercise is an important part of diabetes treatment. With the help and guidance of your doctor, your child should be able to exercise and enjoy all the benefits that come with it.
Why is exercise so important for children with diabetes?
Exercise has a whole host of great benefits for all kids, especially those with diabetes. These include:
- Better blood sugar control – exercise makes insulin work better in the body and keeps blood sugar levels in a healthier range
- Maintenance of a healthy weight – in some people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, too much body fat keeps insulin from working to control blood sugar levels effectively. Regular exercise can help to burn calories, build muscle and reduce weight
- Better health for life – regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, keeps blood pressure under control, strengthens bones and muscles and so much more
- Social interaction and fun – activities like team sports and games are a great way for kids to meet new people, make new friends and have fun, interesting experiences. They can also help kids learn about teamwork, sporting behaviour and competition
- Increased confidence – exercise helps boost kids’ self-esteem and confidence as they learn new skills, grow and improve, and contribute to a team
- Improved mental health – exercise can help relieve stress and anxiety, boost energy and mood
Children with diabetes are able to do all sorts of exercise, including swimming, tennis and more. However, it will require a few changes and adjustments to their usual routine. While your doctor will be able to tell you exactly what’s necessary for your child to exercise safely, here are a few things to expect:
- Blood testing schedule adjustments – the frequency or timing of blood sugar tests may change when your child exercises
- A different insulin schedule – your child may need to adjust their insulin dosage for different exercise or sports
- Adjustments to diet – your dietitian or healthcare team may recommend adjusting your child’s meal plan to provide the extra energy needed during exercise. For example, extra snacks before, during, or after exercise
And some useful tips:
- Always pack snacks – it’s always handy to have quick sources of sugar readily available in case blood sugar levels dip unexpectedly so keep glucose tablets, sweeties or soft drinks on hand
- Pack a little bag with all of the essentials – it can be helpful to have a little backpack full of essentials – testing supplies, medicines, a medical alert bracelet, emergency contact information, snacks, water and a diabetes management plan – ready for your child to take out with them
- Tell the coaches – if your child plays sports with a coach, tell them everything they need to know about your child’s diabetes and how to act in different scenarios. This way they’ll know how to respond and factor in time for your child to eat, inject and anything else before, during, or after a game
- Wear medical identification – if anything does happen, a medical bracelet can help identify your child as having diabetes and provide emergency contact information
Before your child starts any new activity or steps up intensity levels, it’s very important to talk with your doctor so they may advise on changes in testing schedule, medication, or other things you might need to think about.
For further information on type 1 diabetes in children visit the official NHS advice page.