The Blessings of Exercise

Why the balancing act of diabetes and exercise is worth it

Scott K. Johnson

By Scott Johnson

July 2013 — I'm a big believer in exercise. The area where I notice the most benefit is my sanity, but I also know that it's good for me and my heart, and it also supercharges my insulin. Supercharged insulin is pretty awesome, as long as you're expecting it.

I think it's good that I notice how exercise makes me feel better mentally. It helps keep me going, and even encourages me to get moving when I'm a little bummed out. If the effect on my mood was last on the list of benefits, I think it would be much harder to stick with it.

But exercising with diabetes is really tough. I'm sure you've experienced it. Whether it's a low from simply taking a walk or a high from being afraid of lows during exercise. It's a royal pain. It takes a lot of work to figure out how to manage blood sugars for exercise. For many people, the trouble of managing blood sugars is exactly what prevents them from exercising!

I feel really blessed here because of basketball. I enjoy it so much that it is worth all of the work involved in keeping diabetes out of the way. It took a really long time to figure out the right combination of food, insulin, and time to keep my blood sugar where I want it while I play. And even after all of that work, there are days where diabetes just won't cooperate. But for the most part, I have a good handle on it.

Last year I dove into a huge exercise commitment and signed up to ride the century course for my local ADA Tour de Cure event. A century course is 100 miles of cycling, which is an incredible athletic achievement for anyone. I signed up for that course after getting a scholarship for a training program through TeamWILD.

I spent about four solid months learning about exercising with diabetes, experimenting with what I was learning, and spending time on my bike. It was a huge commitment, and took a lot of time each day. It was also empowering. I was learning how to do incredible things while managing blood sugars, insulin requirements, and nutritional needs. All of the hard work paid off when I crossed the finish line that summer.

Many of the things I learned through my own experiments with basketball applied to cycling, and everything I learned from cycling applied back to basketball. There were, of course, minor differences and adjustments, but a lot of the information was useful in both areas.

This year I am working to incorporate running into my exercise arsenal. It's another exercise with different demands on my body and my diabetes management. But again, I'm noticing that most of the underlying principals I've learned through basketball and cycling apply equally well to running.

It's pretty exciting to me that learning about one exercise with diabetes makes it just a little easier to manage another, and that the information applies and can transfer a bit between activities. It's empowering, and makes me less afraid to try new things.

Exercising with diabetes will always be a lot of work, but being less afraid, and feeling even just a little bit more confident with my blood sugars is always a good thing in my book.

Read more of Scott Johnson's columns here.

Visit Scott's blog. 

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: July 23, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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