Diabetes and Your Child: Safe Exercise

Boy testing his blood sugar.Like food and insulin, exercise plays a big role in managing your child’s blood sugar. It helps reduce the amount of glucose (sugar) buildup in the blood. This buildup is called high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). But too much exercise can cause your child’s blood sugar to get too low. This is called low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). That’s why it’s important to monitor your child’s blood sugar closely when he or she exercises. You will have to balance exercise with food and insulin to make sure your child is in his or her target range for blood sugar. 

Prevention is key

The best way to manage your child’s blood sugar during exercise is to plan for it. These are some other things you can do to help keep your child safe during exercise:

  • When your child starts an exercise program, check blood sugar before, during, and after exercise to determine how your child's blood sugar is affected by exercise. Then check your child’s blood sugar before and after each exercise session.

  • Have your child eat a snack before exercising when his or her blood sugar is below target range. Try half a sandwich, crackers and milk, a piece of fruit, or an energy bar.

  • Make sure your child’s emergency glucagon kit is nearby. Glucagon is a shot that raises blood sugar quickly.

  • If your child's blood sugar is 250 mg/dL or above, test for ketones. If ketone levels are high, don't let your child exercise and call your child's healthcare provider. If ketone levels are low, your child may do mild to moderate intensity exercise. Don't let your child do intense exercise until blood sugar levels are below 250 mg/dL. Intense exercise may make blood sugar levels go higher. 

Playing sports

Blood sugar can get low when your child exercises. Lows can last up to 8 hours after exercise. That’s why checking your child’s blood sugar before and after playing sports is so important. Here are some other tips for making sure your child is safe during sports:

  • Tell coaches that your child has diabetes.

  • Give your child’s coach a list of low blood sugar symptoms. Also, give the coach instructions explaining what to do when the child has a low. Be sure the coach knows when to call 911.

  • Pack high-carb snacks for your child. This could be a granola bar and a sports drink.

  • Be sure your child has fast-acting sugar, such as glucose tablets or a snack, on hand in case his or her blood sugar gets low.

  • Ask the coach to keep snacks, glucose tablets, and glucagon in the team sports bag. Make sure the coach or another adult is trained to use the glucagon.

  • Do not allow your child to practice or play in a game if his or her blood sugar is too high and ketones are present.

Playing it safe with friends

Your child’s blood sugar can get low when he or she is away from home. Here are some tips to keep your child from having lows when he or she is away from home:

  • Tell the parents of your child’s friends about your child’s diabetes. If your child doesn’t mind, you can also teach his or her friends about diabetes.

  • Teach your child’s friends and their parents about diabetes and how to spot and treat lows. Treating lows means using meals, snacks, and fast-acting sugar sources, such as glucose tablets or juice, to raise blood sugar back up to target range.

  • Pack prepared meals and snacks, when possible. This will make it easier for other parents to help your child avoid lows. Include a note telling the parent when your child should eat.

  • Talk to the parents about the dangers of severe low blood sugar. Also, tell parents when to call 911.


For more information about diabetes, visit these websites:

  • American Diabetes Association www.diabetes.org

  • Children with Diabetes www.childrenwithdiabetes.org

  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation www.jdrf.org


Note: This sheet does not give all the information you need to care for your child with diabetes. Ask your child’s healthcare team for more information.