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In patients with diabetes or people who take medications known to lower blood glucose levels, hypoglycemia and exercise can be closely connected, and it is possible to develop dangerously low blood sugar levels with strenuous exercise. This does not mean that people can't or shouldn't exercise if they are at risk for hypoglycemia, simply that special precautions may need to be taken. Exercise has a number of benefits and doctors are happy to work with their patients on managing their conditions so they can exercise safely.
When people exercise, the body burns stored energy. In healthy individuals, exercising can deplete blood glucose levels slightly, but not dangerously, especially when people eat a balanced and healthy diet and plan their exercise carefully. For people with diabetes, hypoglycemia and exercise can become a bigger problem. It is possible to experience a rapid crash in blood glucose levels and the patient can be at risk of complications as a result of low levels, especially if no interventions are provided.
People concerned about hypoglycemia and exercise because of a medical condition or medications they are taking should eat before exercising and keep snacks around while working out. Feeling hungry during exercise and sweating profusely are two warning signs of hypoglycemia. Glucose tablets and drinks are also available for patients who need a rapid hit of glucose to pull their blood sugar levels back up.
Checking blood sugar before exercising is recommended by most physicians who treat patients at risk for exercise-induced hypoglycemia. If a patient has slightly low levels, eating and waiting until they stabilize is advisable. Patients also shouldn't exercise with high blood glucose, as they can develop hyperglycemia, where there is too much glucose in the blood. A doctor can talk with a patient about appropriate blood glucose levels for different types of exercise to help the patient develop an appropriate diet and exercise plan for managing hypoglycemia and exercise concerns.
Understanding the connection between hypoglycemia and exercise is important for people who want to engage in moderate to strenuous activity. People shouldn't let concerns about blood glucose scare them off; some very elite athletes including Olympians compete with conditions like diabetes, ranging from endurance athletes like cyclists to sprinters. Team Type 1, a competitive cycling team in the United States, is named for its diabetic team members! While diabetes can add an element of complexity to exercise and athletics, it doesn't make sports impossible.