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Exercise and CGM for Optimal Blood Sugar Control: Tips for Empowering Individuals With Diabetes

Living with diabetes comes with its unique challenges, but advancements in technology and a better understanding of metabolic health have opened up new possibilities for managing the condition. Exercise and wearing a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) can empower individuals with diabetes to take control of their health.

a woman with diabetes completes a hike

The growing interest in metabolic health has propelled the popularity of wearing a CGM, even among individuals who may not necessarily require constant monitoring. The information provided by a CGM is invaluable, granting us profound insights into our blood sugar levels that most people take for granted. With this knowledge, we can tailor our exercise routines and adjust our insulin dosages accordingly, leading to more stable blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Start with a Warm-Up

For many of us, incorporating a warm-up into our exercise routine is crucial. Whether it's a brisk walk, stair stepping, or any other aerobic activity, beginning with a gentle warm-up helps prepare our bodies for the workout ahead. Aerobic exercises provide intensity without overwhelming strain, especially when we become familiar with our bodies over time. It's during this warm-up phase that the power of wearing a CGM becomes evident, as it allows us to monitor our blood sugar levels more effectively and make informed decisions about managing our insulin sensitivity.

Weight Training and Blood Sugar Control

Transitioning from aerobic exercises to strength training, such as weightlifting, introduces different dynamics to blood sugar management. While aerobic activities may cause a moderate drop in blood sugar levels, weight training can prompt a quicker increase. However, as the body becomes more attuned to these changes, we can better anticipate and respond to them.

Learn more about weight training and exercising safely with diabetes by reading Exercising with Diabetes: The Highs and Lows.

The Impact of Exercise

After my aerobic warm-up, I engage in 30 minutes of weightlifting and strength training. Within 10 to 15 minutes, my blood sugar begins to rise, reaching around 140 to 150 mg/dL. However, understanding the underlying reasons behind this increase, such as increased cortisol levels due to anaerobic exercise, I refrain from taking additional insulin. Instead, I wait patiently for about an hour, observing my blood sugar gradually returning to normal levels. This experience underscores the importance of having a reliable gauge, like a CGM, to guide our decisions and adjustments.

Certain exercises, especially those that push us out of our comfort zones, can have a more pronounced effect on blood sugar levels. This response is closely tied to the presence or absence of insulin on board and the body's rise in cortisol. When insulin levels are low, engaging in exercise can lead to more noticeable changes. It is worth noting that older education regarding the necessity of eating before exercise or at specific times may not be entirely applicable today.

Embracing Fasted Exercise and Intermittent Fasting

With the right balance of basal and bolus insulin, individuals with diabetes can practice fasted exercise, intermittent fasting, or adjust meal timings to suit their lifestyle and optimize blood sugar control.

Fasted exercise, once considered a potential risk for inducing low blood sugar, can now be safely practiced by individuals with diabetes. The key lies in managing insulin levels appropriately. By ensuring that there is minimal rapid-acting insulin in the system, you can exercise with freedom.

If you don't have time to exercise in the morning, you can mimic a fasted environment by making sure it's been 3-4 hours since taking a bolus of rapid-acting insulin.

Living with diabetes requires adapting and finding strategies that work best for individual needs. Exercise and the use of a CGM offer powerful tools for achieving optimal blood sugar control. By incorporating warm-ups, understanding the effects of different exercises on blood sugar levels, and embracing fasted exercise or intermittent fasting, individuals with diabetes can confidently navigate their health journey. With knowledge and the right technology, they can take charge of their well-being, defying limitations and embracing a fulfilling life.

Continue the conversation around exercise and continuous glucose monitors! Listen to the latest episode of the Type 1 In Midlife podcast featuring Ginger Vieira. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a 5-star review, and subscribe!

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