Physical activity for life

Janine Paladin tells us why physical activity is needed in all stages of life, especially in the beginning stages of youth.

Children have extremely high energy levels and have an innate sense to move; this should be nurtured. Children need to be encourage to partake in a variety of sports and movement as it helps to increase brain stimulation as well as enhance gross and fine motor control.

But what if your child has diabetes?

As a parent your first thought is to protect your child and pull them from all sporting activities. You want to hold them and protect them. More than likely, you feel that nobody else can take care of them like you can – which is true. However, exercise is one of the best things for a child with diabetes. Though, understanding diabetes and the effects exercise has on it is key.

Type 1

The onset of Type 1 diabetes is most common among young children. Type 1 diabetes is defined as a chronic medical condition whereby the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is the hormone needed to transport sugars (glucose) across the cell membranes to be used for energy. Without this hormone (insulin), sugar builds up in the bloodstream which can become toxic to the body.

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes was originally known as adult-onset diabetes as it mainly occurred in the sedentary adult population. However, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes has risen dramatically over the last few years, especially in young children and adolescents.

Type 2 diabetes is also a chronic condition. The body either resists the effects of insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin to metabolise the amount of sugars in the bloodstream and thereby cannot maintain a normal sugar level. The cause is mainly due to poor lifestyle choice and inactivity.

The increased use of technology at a young age promotes a sedentary lifestyle and thereby increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Technology is like a drug for the younger generations. It filters negatively through all aspects of their lives, affecting their health and mental well-being.

How will physical activity help?

Exercise has so many benefits; the biggest one is that it makes it easier to control blood glucose levels.

It increases the insulin sensitivity for Type 1 diabetics. So, basically after exercise, the body doesn’t need as much insulin to process complex sugars (carbohydrates).

Type 2 diabetics have too much sugar (glucose) but muscles can use glucose without insulin when exercising. So, it doesn’t really matter if you are insulin resistant (Type 2) or if you don’t produce enough insulin (Type 1) as when you exercise your muscles gets the sugar they need. Therefore, blood glucose levels go down.

So, what does this mean for your child?

To go wild and do as much activity as they possibly can. No. Obviously, there are precautions to take as diabetes is a serious condition and if not managed correctly can be extremely dangerous.

Managing diabetes holistically is important. A combination of a healthy meal plan, utilising prescribed medications or insulin with regular exercise will help maintain your child’s blood glucose levels.

Try pick an activity that your child enjoys. Consistent regular exercise is the best and your child is more likely to stick to it if he/she enjoys it.

It’s important for them to test their blood sugar levels before and after exercise to prevent their sugar levels spiking (hyperglycaemia) or dropping too much (hypoglycaemia).

Blood glucose response to exercise will vary depending on:

  • Blood glucose level before starting activity.
  • The intensity of the activity.
  • The length of time you are active.
  • Changes made to insulin doses (Type 1).

Remember to always keep snacks, juice, water, and glucose tabs nearby to assist in keeping those sugar levels normal. If you manage the sugar levels consistently throughout the day, it’s easier to manage it during and after exercise.

Added benefits of physical activity

Everyone wants their kids to be happy and the more active children are, the happier they are.

Plus, promoting exercise into their lifestyle will have other benefits including, weight loss (Type 2), emotional well-being, stress management and acceptance from their peers.

Also, introducing exercise at a young age will help children maintain it as a part of their lifestyle. It makes it easier to continue it throughout their lives as a positive habit.

As parents, we must remember that our child who has diabetes is just like any other kid. They have the same dreams, goals and aspirations and can pretty much do anything that the other kids can. All they need to do is understand their condition and learn to manage it through positive steps and have a great support system through their family and friends.


Janine Paladin currently runs a Biokinetics practice and Pilates studio in Green Point, Cape Town. She completed an internationally recognised STOTT Pilates Course.  She completed a Human Movement Sciences Degree at the University of Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Metropolotan University) obtaining her Cum Laude for her degree.She then continued her studies at the University of Cape Town completing her Honours degree in Biokinetics.