Before I developed reactive hypoglycemia, exercising was just something I did without thinking. OK sure I might have to psyche myself to get my lazy ass out of bed to actually do the exercise, but that was about the level of thought I gave it. Exercising with reactive hypoglycemia is a different thing. In the early days before I stablized myself, exercising was not my friend. It was some ugly creature I wrestled with. Although it is important to exercise to help keep your blood sugar levels stable and cells hungry with reactive hypoglycemia, sometimes you feel like you’re hauling yourself up a mountain – not just doing a 10 minute workout!
Before we talk about what kind of exercise works (and doesn’t!) I wanted to talk about eating. Because of course this isn’t something we can be complacent with as people living with reactive hypoglycemia!
Food and exercise
I know it’s not advisable to eat right before exercising, but when you have reactive hypoglycemia, that rule can be thrown right out of the window as far as I’m concerned. I have found it is extremely important to eat just before exercising. I usually try to exercise most mornings, and within about half an hour of getting up I will have a light snack before beginning to exercise. My go to is half a slice of home made almond bread but that has taken a bit of experimenting with. You have to find the thing that works for you, and also the thing you are willing to eat just before exercising. For me it’s that – or a handful of Macadamia nuts (read about their benefits here).
It’s important to eat again after exercising to keep your blood sugar levels stable. As I usually exercise in the morning, I will then have my proper breakfast straight after exercising. If you’re exercising in the afternoon you might want to split a snack before and after your workout. The only time I have found that I don’t need to eat both before and after exercising is when I am doing light yoga. But you need to work out what is right for you and listen to your body.
Types of exercise
I have been advised by many health professionals long the way to avoid putting my body under too much stress by exercising too vigorously. I find I tend to do best if I exercise moderately for shorter periods of time (not more than 30 minutes), or more gently if it’s for longer. This is what works for me:
Up to 30 minutes
- Strength training using moderate weights
- Barre workouts
- Moderate intensity/low impact circuit training: I followed this workout plan to get me back on track and adjusted the intensity as neeeded
Longer than 30 minutes
- A gentle bike ride
You will notice that things like running and dancing don’t appear here. Although I love the two, at this time of writing, I just find it too much for an extended period of time. Sure I can run for the bus or have a bop around the kitchen with my daughter for 5 minutes, but that is pretty much my limit. Swimming has also been totally out for me. I don’t know what it is about swimming but the two times I have tried to go actual proper swimming, I have been very unwell afterwards. It seems to totally destablize my blood sugar, and the rest of the day is a right off. Which I’m very sad about because I love to swim! Hopefully that will change with time…
No day is the same
I want to emphasise here how no day is the same, and you have to do what is right for your body. Some days I wake up and I am shattered, and I know I need to be kind to myself. I may wait until later in the day to exercise and then just do some yoga or pilates. Other days I am full of beans and know I can have a more robust workout first thing in the morning.
I also want to emphasize while exercise is an important part of managing your symptoms – and I try to exercise every day – it also depends on where you are on your recovery journey. I remember at the beginning when I was trying to exercise before I had my symptoms under control, exercise was always hard. I always felt weak, and I always felt like I was dragging myself through it. As I got better and my symptoms abated, exercising became easier. But it took me many months to build up my strength, fitness and stamina to get there. And I still have terrible days when I just know, today is not a day for exercise. But that said, if you can only do 5 minutes at the beginning, then so be it.
When it comes to exercise – start slow, listen to your body, be kind to yourself and find what feels good to you. And please remember I am not a medical professional but merely sharing my own personal experiences.