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Type 1 Diabetes & Weight Training

By Kristin Davis ; Updated August 14, 2017

Regular exercise is important to stay healthy and strong. Weight training -- also called strength or resistance training -- is a type of exercise that includes lifting weights, or using resistance bands or your own body weight, to engage your muscles. The American Diabetes Association recommends strength training at least twice weekly in addition to aerobic activity. Regular physical activity can help lower blood sugar, improve heart health and increase muscle strength if you're living with diabetes. It's important to balance any changes in your activity level with your insulin needs if you have type 1 diabetes, so talk with your doctor if you have questions.

Benefits

Your muscles use glucose for energy during any exercise, lowering your blood sugar. Weight training can also build more muscle, helping you burn calories faster and keep your weight down. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, conditions that are often associated with both type 1 and 2 diabetes. You'll also benefit from stronger bones, a healthy state of mind, a healthier heart, improved sleep and better balance. The health-related rewards of weight training are even greater when you combine it with aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging or swimming.

Getting Started

Weight training includes anything that has you lift, push or pull objects -- including your own body weight. The resistance engages and strengthens your muscles. After talking to your doctor, you may want to join an exercise class or purchase a few weights and/or resistance bands for home use. Even heavy housework, hiking on hilly terrain and gardening that involves hoeing or digging are forms of weight training. As with any new activity, it is a good idea to start gradually and slowly increase the intensity.

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Safety Tips

People with type 1 diabetes can react differently to weight training. Your goal is to avoid blood sugar highs or lows and injury during exercise. Talk with your doctor about the right intensity of weight training for you, the best time of day to exercise, blood sugar monitoring and your target glucose range. With intense exercise, blood sugar levels can fluctuate, so you may need to adjust your insulin or eat a snack to stay in your target range. Wearing supportive footwear can help you to avoid foot problems, which can be particularly troublesome for people with type 1 diabetes. Report back to your doctor if you have any concerns about your exercise regimen and blood glucose management.

Warnings and Precautions

Weight training is beneficial for most people with type 1 diabetes, but it may not be safe in some situations. Talk with your doctor if you have: -- Diabetes-related eye disease: Strenuous lifting may cause further damage. -- Heart disease: Weight training may need to be adjusted to avoid straining your heart. -- Foot injury or a sore: You may need to temporarily avoid weight bearing activities.

Monitor your blood sugar as recommended by your doctor to detect fluctuations. Shakiness, irritability, weakness, dizziness, confusion or agitation may indicate low blood sugar.

Stop exercising and seek emergency medical care if you experience symptoms that may indicate heart trouble, including: -- Chest discomfort or pain, which may extend into the arm, neck or jaw. -- Shortness of breath, dizziness or fainting. -- Cold sweats or nausea.

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