Physical activity and type 1 diabetes: What school staff should know

Regular physical activity is important for all children and youth, including those with type 1 diabetes. Students with type 1 diabetes should participate fully in gym classes, and in any team or individual sports that they choose.

Physical activity should be limited or delayed only if a student has:

Because physical activity lowers blood sugar, it’s important to take steps to ensure that students with type 1 diabetes are safe, especially if activity is unplanned or more intense than expected.

Just as additional physical activity can lead to low blood sugars without proper planning, the lack of physical activity can lead to high blood sugars. When rainy days keep children indoors, for example, parents often find that blood sugars will be higher than usual.

Key points about physical activityActions school staff can take

Physical activity lowers blood sugar.

  • Be familiar with specific instructions related to physical activity in the student’s Individual Care Plan. Steps to take could include: blood checks (before, during or after activity), or an additional snack.
  • Be alert to signs of low blood sugar, and know what to do to treat it.
  • Ensure that students always have access to their emergency kit, especially their meter and a source of fast-acting sugar (such as juice, glucose tabs, or candy).

The student’s daily diabetes plan (including how much insulin they take and how much food they eat) typically accounts for routine physical activity. Significant changes to the schedule may require adjustments, such as an extra blood check and/or an extra snack.

Keep parents informed of upcoming changes to the physical education schedule, or special events involving activity.

Not all physical activities have the same effect on blood sugar.

When a student starts a new sport or activity, blood sugar should be checked before, during, and after to see what the impact is.

Field trips often involve a lot of walking, which can lower blood sugar.

Provide as much notice as possible for field trips, and ensure that a plan is in place.

When blood sugar is very high, physical activity could cause it to rise even higher.

Never suggest that a student use physical activity as a way of lowering blood sugar. If blood sugar is high, follow instructions in the student’s Individual Care Plan.

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