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Cycling & Diabetes: Tips & Precautions for Cyclists (2022)

If you're a cyclist looking to your management diabetes, here are a few tips for managing diabetes. So you can stay active and healthy.

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Cycling is a fantastic low-impact exercise for just about anyone, but is it safe to cycle with diabetes?

This post will teach you what diabetes is, if it’s safe to cycle with diabetes, and tips for cycling with diabetes so you can stay healthy.

According to studies, bikers are half as likely as non-cyclists to develop type 2 diabetes. However, cycling can help you lose weight and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. It can also help you manage your diabetes by making it easier to control your blood sugar and reducing inflammation.

Image of a person with diabetes pricking their finger. Source: photomix company, pexels
Image of a person with diabetes pricking their finger. Source: Photomix Company, Pexels

Editor’s note: This article was updated on July 5, 2022, to include additional information about cycling and diabetes. I am not a doctor. Please speak to your doctor for professional medical advice.

Before learning about cycling and diabetes, let’s first understand what diabetes is.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a health condition that develops when your blood glucose, often known as blood sugar, is abnormally high. Blood glucose is your primary energy source from the foods you consume. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps in transporting glucose from food into your cells for use as energy. However, sometimes your body does not produce enough—or any—insulin, or it may not use insulin effectively. Glucose thus remains in your circulation rather than reaching your cells.

Too much glucose in your blood can lead to health concerns over time. Although there is no cure for diabetes, you can make efforts to manage it and stay healthy. Diabetes is also referred to as “a touch of sugar” or “borderline diabetes.” These words imply that someone does not have diabetes or has a milder case. However, every case of diabetes is dangerous.

Is it safe to cycle with diabetes?

Cycling is safe for people with diabetes. However, one should proceed with caution because much depends on age, the severity of diabetes, and pre-existing comorbidities. For example, there would be a more significant requirement to monitor blood glucose levels in young people with T1D. They have no other comorbidities because excessive exertion increases the risk of hypoglycemia.

As a result, blood glucose levels should be checked before and after each cycling exercise. The dosage of insulin medication would also need to be adjusted. In the absence of other diseases, the risk of hypoglycemia in T2D patients is modest. Most people with T2D tolerate physical exercise well and may only require minimal adjustments to their therapy. As a result, most people may not need to adjust to therapy initially. On the other hand, those with severe T2D and on insulin therapy would require care comparable to those with T1D.

On the other hand, the necessity to alter treatment is not an excuse not to cycle. On the contrary, the advantages of physical activity such as cycling significantly outweigh the risks. Furthermore, proper planning makes it possible to compete in professional cycling. For example, Novo Nordisk maintains a competitive cycling team, and all members have type 1 diabetes.

Tips for cycling with diabetes

Below are a few tips to keep in mind if you are a cyclist with diabetes.

1. Hydrate

The effects of dehydration can be more severe in people with diabetes than in the general population. Severe dehydration can result in high blood glucose levels, and even mild dehydration can throw blood glucose curveballs. Consider using a hydration backpack. A hydration pack* may hold up to 100 ounces of water instead of the 20–30 ounces provided by water bottles. Furthermore, you can fill such bottles with a sweet drink to get glucose.

Image of woman person drinking a bottle of water by the lake. Source: maria di lorenzo, unsplash
Image of a woman person drinking a bottle of water by the lake. Source: Maria Di Lorenzo, Unsplash

2. Consume more glucose than you believe you require.

You should never ride a bike without enough glucose! You are frequently alone, in the countryside or on paths leading away from the city. You may not have easy access to stores, other people, or assistance. You’re also more inclined to go low. The absence of glucose can be fatal.

3. Choose the right saddle.

Cycling saddle selection is critical for anyone wishing to ride a bike. You’ll be working on it for a long time, so it should provide adequate support. It is, however, far more critical for people with diabetes.

Traditional saddles press upon the perineum, the sensitive tissue between the legs. A nerve bundle that runs through this location is in charge of bladder function and sexual wellness. Both are possible issues, so let’s not damage that nerve bundle! Instead, look for noseless saddles or saddles with a middle channel that goes the entire saddle length. Below are some noseless saddle options.

4. Keep yourself clean

Saddle sores form when a (perhaps minor) breach in the skin becomes infected, resulting in a painful sore. The source of the skin split could be pressing against a poorly fitting saddle, an abrasive seam in your cycling shorts, or even an ingrown hair. Whatever the cause of the discomfort, the issue arises when it develops into a bacterial infection. And, if we’re not careful, riding can be a bacterial nightmare. Cycling and sweating create a warm, moist environment ideal for bacterial growth.

Those with diabetes have more to lose than our fellow riders. An infection causes increased blood glucose levels while our bodies battle the infection, and because our immune systems are weaker, that fight takes a little longer. So the simplest approach to avoiding these uninvited visitors is to always shower promptly after a ride. But then, don’t give that bacterium a chance to grow!

5. Always allow for a rest period.

Just as anaerobic activity can cause an unanticipated rise in blood glucose, a post-exercise rise in blood glucose is not uncommon. This is especially true for those who are still on injections and can’t go to a temporary lower basal rate. So, your blood glucose levels may decline when exercising (unless you hit too much of that anaerobic zone we discussed earlier). This means you need to consume glucose, and because your metabolism is working faster during cycling, you’ll need more than usual to get back up.

This is OK while you’re exercising, but your metabolism returns to normal when you stop, and your muscles stop soaking up the additional glucose you ingested. As a result, there may be a spike. This spike isn’t as dramatic as the anaerobic effect, but it can still be a significant 30-60 point increase. Avoiding this spike is very hard, but there is one thing you can do to mitigate its impact: establish a cool-down period.

Take it easy for the last 10-15 minutes of your ride; attempting to transition from your aerobic zone to your typical HR zone and gradually shifting to significantly reduce the severity of the post-exercise surge.

6. Listen to your body.

Exercise, believe it or not, can deplete your immune system. So yes, exercise can make you sick. Additionally, intense workouts and weight loss could impair your immune system’s ability to fight a cold. So don’t push yourself too hard.

If you want even more tips, watch the “Cycling for Diabetes” video on the CNN YouTube Channel.

A video called “Cycling for Diabetes” from the CNN YouTube Channel.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about cycling and diabetes.

Is cycling better than walking for diabetes?

Cycling, in particular, has proven to be one of the best sports for people with diabetes since it is an aerobic activity. In addition, the bike works against this sickness because it activates 70% of our muscular mass, which is located in our lower limbs.

Does cycling decrease blood sugar?

According to a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, cycling at a moderate pace for an hour can help overweight people with diabetes cut their blood sugar levels in half over the next 24 hours. However, cycling faster for half an hour can cut levels for the entire day, but only by 19%.

Does cycling increase insulin sensitivity?

Studies have shown that cycling significantly increases insulin sensitivity in the muscles that have completed the work. This can cause the body to be more sensitive to insulin for up to 2 days after each workout.

Conclusion

Cycling is an excellent approach to enhancing your general health, managing diabetes, and minimizing your chance of developing diabetes. Cycling is not only a great form of exercise, but it also helps to regulate blood sugar levels. So, the next time you want to take a vacation from your hectic schedule, consider cycling! It’s an excellent strategy to keep diabetes under control.

This article covered what diabetes is. Is it safe to cycle with diabetes? And tips for cycling with diabetes. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • Cycling is a convenient, healthy, and enjoyable means of transportation.
  • Cycling attracts a large number of diabetic athletes.
  • Biking is a fun and healthy way to keep active and lose weight.
  • But while riding can be fun for some people, it can also be perilous if done wrong or without the help of a qualified health professional.

So, did we cover everything you wanted to know? Let us know in the comments section below (we read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out our full blog for more tips and tricks on fixed-gear and single-speed bikes. Thanks for reading, and stay fixed.

Helpful resources

Image of a person with diabetes pricking their finger pinterest
Image of a person with diabetes pricking their finger. Pinterest
Author avatar - Bradley Knight
Written By Bradley Knight
As a native New Yorker, Bradley is no stranger to the fixed gear scene. He’s been riding fixed for over ten years. When he’s not on the bike, you can find him practicing his many hobbies including playing guitar, video production, and photography.

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