Should my active parent check his blood sugar during exercise?

1 answer | Last updated: Jun 21, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My dad is an avid golfer and tennis player, and he also has type 2 diabetes. Does he need to monitor his blood glucose during a round of golf or a game of tennis, and how should he prepare himself for a drop in blood sugar levels?

Expert Answers

Theresa Garnero is clinical nurse manager of Diabetes Services at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

Your father should check his blood glucose if he notices symptoms such as shakiness, nervousness, vision changes, hunger, dizziness, headache, confusion, or sweating. These are all potential signs of low blood sugar, which can be brought on by physical activity.

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is more likely if your parent takes insulin or a diabetes pill, skips a meal, or exercises strenuously or for a long time. Low blood sugar is potentially dangerous because, if left unchecked, it can cause your father to pass out. For that reason, it's a good idea for him to wear a medical I.D. tag or bracelet, and he should let his exercise partners know that he has diabetes.

Your father should check his blood glucose before he starts to exercise. If he finds it's low -- less than 100 micrograms per deciliter (mg/dL) -- he should have a snack, such as half a sandwich, peanut butter on crackers, or a low-fat cheese stick, to prevent it from going too low (under 70 mg/dL) while he's active. If he intends to be on the course or court for more than 30 minutes, he should also have a snack before he gets moving.

If his numbers drop below 70, he should immediately take some fast-acting sugar, such as two or three glucose tablets or half a cup of fruit juice. He should check his blood glucose again 15 minutes later, and if it's still under 70 mg/dL, he should have another serving of sugar. He should repeat these steps until his blood glucose is at least 70 and then follow up with a snack or a meal at mealtime.

In addition, if your father recognizes symptoms of low blood sugar but can't check his blood glucose, he should respond as if it is low. Encourage your father to be prepared before he heads out for a game. He should bring a bag stocked with water, a snack such as a protein bar, glucose tablets or juice, a glucose meter and testing strips, and insulin or any medications he may need while he's on the go.

If low blood sugar is interfering with your father's exercise plans, and eating a snack beforehand doesn't seem to raise his numbers, he should ask his doctor about adjustments to his medications that may help.