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Diabetes and Physical Activity

Written by Barbara Bushman, Ph.D., FACSM

Diabetes is a disease characterized by high blood glucose (high sugar in the blood). Diabetes affects 346 million people worldwide. 

  • Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which causes the destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. 
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body no longer uses the insulin produced, resulting in insulin resistance. 

In both types of diabetes blood glucose levels become elevated without the assistance of insulin to help move glucose into the body's cells. 

Athletes must have glucose (carbohydrate) available in the muscle cells for high intensity activity and so it would seem diabetes and athletic competition would be a poor match. On the contrary, former successful Olympians (swimmer Gary Hall Jr., volleyball player Kevin Hansen, cross country skier Kris Freeman) as well as many others (marathoner Missy Foy, football quarterback Jay Cutler) have been very successful athletes while managing their diabetes. 

Physical activity and a focus on diet are two important lifestyle factors for everyone, and are especially important for individuals with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Monitoring blood glucose levels to ensure adequate glucose levels are maintained is an added challenge, but one worth the effort, not just for those pursuing Olympic glory, but for everyone.

Read more from the ACSM Sports Performance Center

Recommended Resources

Barbara Bushman, Ph.D., FACSM, is a professor at Missouri State University. Dr. Bushman has authored papers related to menopause, factors influencing exercise participation, and deep water run training. She authored ACSM’s Action Plan for Menopause (Human Kinetics, 2005), edited ACSM’s Complete Guide to Fitness & Health (Human Kinetics, 2011), and serves as an associate editor for ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal

Note: The views expressed in ACSM Olympics Hot Topics are those of the contributors only, and should not be construed as official statements of the American College of Sports Medicine.

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