Helping your child navigate diabetes in sports

Diabetes can be challenging to manage at any age. Add childhood to the mix, and it’s even more complicated. Now — what if your child plays sports?

Physical activity of any sort is beneficial for people of all ages, including those with diabetes. And sports provide a number of benefits for kids, helping them learn and develop important skills.

So, it stands to reason that kids with diabetes can benefit from participating in sports, whether at school or in a community setting. But while there are definite benefits, there are a few challenges. Fortunately, with a little special care, those challenges can be overcome.

The benefits of sports for kids with diabetes

The first and most obvious benefit of sports participation for kids and teens who have diabetes is the physical activity involved. Experts recommend that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day to stay on track developmentally and to maintain a normal and healthy weight.

Sports participation helps kids hit that marker by staying active in practices and games.

But kids with diabetes actually benefit even more from participating in physical activity, so they stand to benefit more from sports participation. Regular physical activity can help the body better handle insulin, which helps keeps blood sugar readings in a normal range.

Since weight is often intricately tied with diabetes, the physical activity aspect of sports is also helpful in that regard, helping to burn calories and build muscle.

Beyond the physical benefits, though, there are also plenty of other benefits — kids who participate in sports have improved self-esteem and self-confidence, less stress, and a more even mood. They also learn vital lessons, including how to be part of a team and how to handle adversity.

So, what’s the challenge?

With all of these benefits, what’s the negative aspect of sports participation? There really isn’t one — there’s just a need to be vigilant when participating in a sport or when being physically active in any way.

This is especially true for those taking medications to control diabetes, including insulin and some types of oral medication.

Because exercising in general can cause blood sugar to fluctuate, it’s important to keep an eye out for potential symptoms of low or high blood sugar during practices and games.

Let’s take a look at a few other steps you can take to keep your child happy and healthy — and participating in a sport.

How to promote safe participation in sports for kids with diabetes

Parents of children with diabetes are usually hypervigilant about their child’s health and well-being. You’ll want to step that up a notch when sports are involved. Do that by:

  • Monitoring blood glucose before, during and after a practice or game. This is important since blood sugar can fluctuate with intense or even moderate physical activity. Checking glucose during participation can help ensure levels remain in a safe spot.
  • Providing a snack pre-practice if glucose is low. It’s especially important not to begin exercising if blood sugar levels are low. Talk with your doctor about what’s safe for your child, and if your child’s blood glucose falls below that, provide a small snack to help get it back within a healthy range.
  • Holding your child out of practice and games if blood glucose is high. Again, know what’s normal and expected for your child. If your child’s blood glucose is too high, it’s better to skip physical activity for the day.
  • Having carbs on hand during practice and games. Take along a quick and easy dose of carbs, such as hard candy, dried fruit or crackers. This can be beneficial if blood sugar drops during participation.
  • Ensuring the coach is in the know. Make sure your child’s coach and other adults associated with the team are aware that your child has diabetes. It’s also a good idea to review common symptoms of low blood sugar with them so they’ll be aware if blood sugar drops.
  • Talking with your child’s doctor about insulin dosage. Depending on how often your child is participating in a sport and how active he or she is, your doctor may recommend adjusting insulin dosing around practices and games.
  • Providing a snack during activity if it lasts longer than an hour. Blood sugar can drop during that time and a snack will help boost it back into a normal range.

Wondering whether there are other steps you should take to help your child safely participate in sports? Talk with your child’s doctor or find one here.