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The Diabetic Athlete

Don't let diabetes force you to the sidelines. Learn how to maximize your workouts while coping with a life-altering disease.

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Bad Sports

Exercise has always been encouraged for diabetics because it can help to transport glucose into cells, reducing blood-sugar buildup. However, there are certain activities in which blood-glucose imbalances could lead to inattention and result in serious injury. “These sports include scuba diving, rock climbing, mountaineering—anything where you are really out on the edge and don’t have a lot of backup,” says Martin B. Draznin, M.D., director of the Pediatric Endocrine Specialty Clinics at Michigan State University Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies.

Hypoglycemia, marked by an abrupt decline in blood-sugar levels, is the No. 1 concern for type 1 diabetic athletes. Red flags include moodiness, shakiness, confusion, and numbness in the arms and hands. If you experience any of these symptoms, try consuming some rapidly absorbing carbohydrates, such as fruit juice, hard candy, soda, bagels, or glucose tablets and gels. For extended activities—long runs, cycling—diabetics have to balance insulin intake with carbohydrates.

Some diabetics can become “hypoglycemia unaware” and must learn the subtler signals that their bodies give out, says Colberg-Ochs. “One guy told me when he’s out running, his warning sign is when he begins kicking the back of his left shoe with his right foot.”

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