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Exercise and Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to use sugars, starches, fats and proteins. Because the body needs various fuels for energy, this disease disrupts normal energy metabolism both at rest and during physical exercise.

Following digestion, a hormone called insulin is released into the blood from the pancreas. Among insulin’s primary roles is its ability to allow carbohydrates (absorbed in the form of glucose) and proteins to enter muscle cells, where they are stored or used for energy. Individuals with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce enough—or even any—insulin to allow this process to occur. Consequently, glucose is unable to enter cells and builds up in the blood. Because people with type 1 diabetes have insufficient insulin production, daily insulin injections are required to maintain glucose levels as close to normal as possible. Thus, individuals with type 1 diabetes are considered insulin-dependent.

It is imperative for those with type 1 diabetes to regulate their blood glucose (blood sugar) levels to help reduce complications associated with this disease. If glucose levels remain unchecked for extended periods, people with type 1 diabetes run the risk of developing heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and nerve dysfunction.
Therefore, people with type 1 diabetes must always be careful about the amounts and types of foods they eat, as well as when they exercise and what types of physical activity they perform.

How does exercise help?

Because exercise uses glucose as a fuel, it is an effective way to control blood sugar levels. Exercise has an insulin-like effect on glucose, enhancing its uptake into cells and counteracting elevated blood glucose levels that frequently occur after eating. With exercise, the amount of insulin injected for controlling blood glucose can be lowered in those in type 1 diabetes.

Also, many health-related benefits of physical activity (e.g., lowering blood pressure, managing body weight, improving self-efficacy and confidence, and improving blood lipids) are part of the exercise therapy.

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